For the third time in four years, University of Maryland football Coach Bobby Ross has taken himself out of the running for a job at another school, this time agreeing to a contract to remain at College Park for a minimum of four years.

Ross said yesterday he and Dick Dull, Maryland's director of athletics, agreed "in principle" Monday to a long-term commitment, the length of which is yet to be determined and the first four years of which are guaranteed. No contract has been signed, and Ross said he will retain an agent, but he called that "only a formality."

Dull said, "I see no reason we cannot get a contract signed in the next (few) days."

The contract is similar to one drawn up last year that Ross declined to sign, opting instead for a one-year deal and saying he wasn't sure Maryland was willing to make the commitment needed to become a football power. Maryland convinced Ross it meant business with an agreement for stadium expansion and a first-ever written statement of admissions policies.

It wasn't until 1:30 yesterday morning, Ross said, that he made his decision to stay at Maryland. He said it came after consulting much of the day with his wife and four children, and after receiving specific guidelines from the school regarding admissions requirements and improvements for Byrd Stadium.

Ross called University of Minnesota officials at 6:30 a.m. and withdrew his name from consideration for the job vacated last week when Lou Holtz left for Notre Dame. Minnesota officials, who also approached Ross after the 1983 season, were prepared to offer Ross the job yesterday, sources said, but after Ross' announcement they gave the position to defensive coordinator John Gutekunst, who signed a four-year deal for a base salary of $85,000 annually.

At Maryland, Ross will receive only a university-wide percentage increase that will raise his salary from $78,000 to $85,000 and his radio-television package from $60,000 to $65,000. He will continue to have use of a luxury car and continue to live in a house that university alumni purchased in the spring. He also will continue to be in line for a $15,000 annual annuity from private contributions, for which he will be eligible in two years.

At a noon news conference, Ross said he felt "happy, comfortable and very excited about staying at Maryland.

"There was no one, key factor in the decision. The bottom line, simply, was that we were winning. We were graduating players. And we were doing things ethically and by the rules. I thought, 'Why change things? Why uproot my family?' "

But there were times Wednesday night, between discussions with his family and assistant coaches, when he could have decided in favor of Minnesota, Ross indicated. After talking with his family, Ross went to his office Wednesday night and, at 9:30 p.m., he said he told his assistants he wasn't sure what he would do. "It was like a yo-yo," he said. "One minute up and one minute down."

Ross finally returned home after 1 a.m. and told members of his family of his decision to stay. "They were all waiting up," Ross said. "Then, we slept on it."

This was the third such decision Ross has made in his four years at Maryland. Two years ago, Minnesota approached Ross before hiring Holtz, but Ross removed his name from consideration. Last season, Missouri was prepared to offer a job to Ross before he took himself out of the running.

The visit Monday and Tuesday to Minnesota came after Ross and Dull reached agreement on a contract. Dull said he advised Ross to go to Minneapolis and "take a look . . . because he would regret (if) he never made the trip." Tuesday at Minnesota, Ross met with academicians, at least one player, at least one assistant coach and the state's governor, Rudy Perpich.

Ross said he also talked earlier in the week with officials at Pittsburgh about the opening there, but decided he wasn't interested.

Ross said yesterday there were times during this past season when he wanted to resign. Even as recently as five weeks ago, he was ready to leave Maryland and take a chance on finding a job, he said.

Ross said his frustrations stemmed from general promises he had recived about increasing the capacity of Byrd Stadium and improving some of its facilities, which were not acted upon immediately. Ross also was upset by what he perceived as inconsistent and vague guidelines concerning admissions requirements.

Ross said the confusion cost at least one recruit. He said yesterday that he and university officials had moved from "generalities to specifics" on both stadium improvements and admissions guidelines, and felt good about both issues.

Ross said he has been "assured we will follow Proposition 48 and, if we do, that we will have the same guidelines that everybody else has. All I wanted was to have an equal chance."

Ross already felt comfortable about his football team. With one game left -- the Dec. 21 Cherry Bowl in Pontiac, Mich. -- Ross' four teams have compiled a record of 33-14, including 17 straight Atlantic Coast Conference victories, three ACC titles and a victory in last year's Sun Bowl.

Many picked this year's Maryland team to finish in the top five, but it lost three games, to No. 1-ranked Penn State, to second-ranked Miami and to fifth-ranked Michigan. Maryland was one play away from beating Miami and Penn State, but now is unranked and playing in a bowl of little prestige.

"Regardless of what the current rankings state, we are there," Ross said, meaning he feels his team is competitive with any in the nation. "We are there and we are doing it in the proper educational context."

Ross also was asked if he will have his agent -- whom he refused to name -- arrange an "escape clause" similar to the one Holtz had inserted in his 10-year contract at Minnesota, in case of an offer from Notre Dame.

"I'm not going to get into that," Ross said, and Dull said there was no such clause. "I'm tired of it. I'm tired of the speculation. This has all been a big distraction to the Maryland team and the young men we are recruiting."

Ross also has been mentioned as a candidate for head-coaching jobs with the Kansas City Chiefs (where he was an assistant before coming to Maryland) and the St. Louis Cardinals of the National Football League. But Ross said he had no thoughts of waiting until after the round of bowl games to see if an offer would be forthcoming.

Dull said Ross did not want a raise, but will get one, anyway, of approximately 9 percent.

"What Bobby didn't indicate (during the news conference) was that he is satisfied with the salary he had last year, that he is satisfied with his radio and television package and said he didn't need one dollar more," Dull said. "I'm not accepting that. I think people should be rewarded for what they deserve, not what they ask for."