Time is beginning to crowd Howard University's football coach, Floyd Keith.

Keith arrived in 1979 with a five-year contract and a mandate to fashion a winner at Howard. Today, just better than three-fourths of the way through his tenure, he has produced one, of sorts.

Howard's record under Keith is 22-16-2, but his detractors say the victories have come in the wrong times and places and whispers on campus have Keith in danger of losing his job.

This season Howard stands a respectable 5-4, about par for recent years.

No one is cheering. Not after the Bison lost three in a row in a September swoon. When it was over they had no chance to take the conference title they have yet to win under Keith; they'd been swamped and embarrassed by Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference rivals Bethune-Cookman, South Carolina State and Florida A&M. The combined score: 131-12.

Questions arose over Keith's future. Four subsequent close victories over lesser opponents did not silence them.

While a change of leadership would appear untimely this late in the season, Howard's vice president for student affairs, Dr. Carl Anderson, would not rule even that out last week.

"We have three games left," said Anderson, who is Keith's boss, last week before the Bison beat Norfolk State with a last-quarter touchdown. "Anything can happen."

Anderson said the Howard administration is "constantly in the process of evaluating" the football program. He added, "We're not concentrating on Keith. He has a five-year contract and we're looking at the total program as far as progress and lack of it on that five-year basis."

Anderson said it would be "extremely premature to comment" on the likelihood of a coaching change before Keith's five years are up after the 1983 season. However, he said, "We're always taking a look at that."

Keith is doing his best to ignore critics and concentrate on football and the improvements he feels he's made. He is not without supporters on campus, though his admirers seem more apt to respect him than love him.

Even his most-trusted players are guarded in their assessments. "I can't say these have been my happiest four years," said senior defensive end Jeff Wise. Star receiver Tracy Singleton conceded, "Some people have problems" relating to Keith.

"A lot of the Keith thing is personal," said Glenn Harris, who broadcasts the Bison games on WHUR radio. "He's from a different environment (rural Ohio) so people here don't relate that well to him. But he works hard, he's organized, he's a proud guy and he's young. He needs time."

And time is closing in.

A month ago, after the 50-0 drubbing by South Carolina State, some Howard players publicly complained about the team's progress, about Keith's teaching and play-calling abilities and about facilities, including food and the weight-lifting program.

It marked the first public accusations against Keith since the 1979 and 1980 seasons, when he and his assistants were accused of physically abusing some players, forcing some to practice while injured and taking away or reducing some scholarships.

Nothing much came of those early troubles, nor does Keith expect much to emerge from the new ones.

"I've been around long enough not to believe everything I read," he said, adding that he didn't know who his accusers were (the critics were not identified). "If you talk to 10 people, nine are going to say one thing and one the other. I didn't get that kind of feedback from my entire team."

Keith said when he came to Howard from big-time Colorado, where he was an assistant, he established two goals: "To build a winning, competitive program and to insure every possibility that the players have an opportunity for a quality education."

He feels he's done both.

The fact that his teams have yet to beat Bethune-Cookman, S.C. State or Florida A&M reflects longtime troubles with those teams, he said. "They are tough football teams," said Keith, citing overall Howard records of 2-10 and 1-8 against State and A&M, respectively. "So we're still building to beat those teams, and that's the difference between being champions and just being in the conference."

Keith feels he's made strides on the academic side. His first year, he said, 18 players were ineligible because of academic troubles. Since then, after introducing mandatory study halls, he's had only six academic ineligibilities.

And he feels his work may be on the verge of bearing fruit on the field. "We've probably developed a good nucleus to build on, providing we can avoid injuries," said Keith in a statement betraying a certain lack of conviction.

The question is whether that modest prospect will satisfy administrators and alumni, who were shocked by the colossal defeats last month and are growing impatient in the wait for significant improvements in Howard football.

"Probably the jury is still out," said Dr. Charles Franklin, alumni representative to the university's athletic committee. "Next year will probably be The Truth. Then he'll have had his five years, he'll be playing his own recruits, it will be a fairly seasoned team.

"I'd have to say he's done excellently as far as having winning seasons after three years of losing. And he deserves high marks on the academic side.

"Anytime your team loses, 50-0, people are going to be disturbed, but if he wins the last two we'll be 7-4, which is better than last year.

"But we need some progress against Bethune, South Carolina State and A&M. We've got to beat one of them."

Keith agrees with that. "Am I satisfied?" he asked. "I think we've improved the program. But I won't be satisfied until we beat A&M and South Carolina State."

And time is closing in.