Jimmy Raye, the receivers coach for the Atlanta Falcons, has emerged as the leading candidate to coach the Washington team in the new United States Football League.

"From all the indications we have received from them, he is the No. 1 candidate," Walter Melvin, Raye's attorney and longtime friend, said yesterday from his office in Fayetteville, N.C. "We would like to get it settled as soon as possible. I may even be flying to Washington this weekend."

Melvin said Raye has not received a firm offer from team owner Berl Bernhard, "but we have had some general discussions as to what we could expect. They have told us what they are offering, and we have told them what we are looking for. We are very close, and I anticipate no problem in that area."

Bernhard, who said earlier this week he hoped to name a general manager and a coach by next Friday, was not available to comment.

Raye, 35, would become the 12-team league's first black head coach, and Melvin said he would be one of the league's most innovative coaches, as well.

"Jimmy has done some great things with the Atlanta offense since he got there," he said. "I think, based on Jimmy's coaching philosophy, he'd bring an exciting brand of football to Washington. Up until recently you haven't had great offensive football up there. That's what you'd get with Jimmy."

Raye grew up in Fayetteville and went to Michigan State, where he led the Spartans to two Big Ten titles and was the starting quarterback in the 10-10 tie with Notre Dame that decided the 1966 national championship. Alabama, left as the nation's only unbeaten team, thus became the national champion.

He played defensive back for the Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles before working as a college assistant at Michigan State and Wyoming. He was an assistant coach for the San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions before joining the Falcons in 1980.

"I would give him an excellent recommendation," Atlanta General Manager Eddie LeBaron said yesterday. "He's a very bright guy and he's been a big help in improving our passing game. I think he's a potentially excellent head coach."

Raye was en route to Fayetteville and could not be reached for comment. In a telephone interview late Thursday night, he said he had not resigned from the Falcons, but that Coach Leeman Bennett had been pressing him to tell him of his plans. The Falcons go to training camp Friday.

"Jimmy's in somewhat of a bind," Melvin said. "If this is not settled by the time training camp starts, because of the type of individual he is, Jimmy would go to training camp and fulfill his obligations. He would not be available for discussions. Obviously, I would be, but we'd really like to get it done."

Melvin said he spoke with Bernhard Thursday morning and was in touch with club officials again yesterday. "We've been trying to resolve some differences, nothing major, and of course they've been very busy getting other things organized, the stadium lease, for example . . .

"But from all indications, they are tremendously interested in Jimmy coming up there . . . There has been no firm offer or acceptance, but we have told them we are extremely interested. We think this an excellent opportunity for Jimmy, and we think people in Washington are going to be excited by this man."