Rick Carter's father died in August, three weeks after finding out he had cancer, and his mother now lies in a coma, also dying of the disease. Carter's father, Cloyd, had been his best friend, and those who knew Carter, the football coach at Holy Cross for the past five years, said he was never the same after his father's death.

But those friends -- from Edward Bennett Williams, the Washington attorney who is chairman of Holy Cross' board of trustees and who hired Carter, to George Blaney, the Crusaders' basketball coach -- never thought Carter was so depressed he would commit suicide.

Carter, 42, one of the most promising young coaches in football, was discovered hanging from a belt in his West Boylston, Mass., home Sunday morning, and police officials have listed the death as a suicide. "At this time there is no reason or evidence to suggest foul play," Chief Robert Barton of the West Boylston Police said yesterday.

The body was discovered by Carter's 21-year-old son Nicholas.

Barton declined to say whether Carter had left a note explaining why he apparently had decided to take his own life. So Carter's friends and associates only could speculate.

"The thing that really seemed to affect him inordinately was the death of his father," Williams said. "He told me his father had missed only about two games in which he had played or coached. That really seemed to throw Rick into a loop at the start of the season. Then he found his mom had a terminal illness.

"But all those things don't add up. It had to be something else. We're absolutely shocked about it. There must have been some deep depression that I never penetrated and nobody up there penetrated. It staggered everybody up there."

From his Worcester office, Blaney said, "The loss of his father was evident. But I don't think anybody could say that they noticed anything . . . . It's a terrible tragedy that you don't expect at any time, especially when you think you know somebody."

Carter had compiled a 137-58-7 record in 20 years as a college coach, including the past five at Holy Cross, where his 1983 team was 9-2-1 and his 1984 team 8-3. The Crusaders were 4-6-1 last season. "They didn't have a quarterback in 1985, and he had a little less zeal. I accounted for that as the death of his father," said Williams.

Even though the Rev. John E. Brooks, the college president, announced before this season that Holy Cross was de-emphasizing football and would cease giving football scholarships in 1989, Carter had accepted a five-year extension of his contract. Williams called the pact "very lucrative."

"It had an escape clause so he could leave for a really major job or a pro job," said Williams, former president of the Washington Redskins and owner of baseball's Baltimore Orioles. "He had everything in terms of career security that one could ask for . . . a lovely wife and two children . . . . There was absolutely no limit on how far he could go. I envisioned him as being an NFL coach someday if he wanted to."

Carter, a native of Kettering, Ohio, came to Holy Cross in 1980 from the University of Dayton, where he led the Flyers to a 14-0 record and the Division III national championship. In his first four seasons at Holy Cross, which plays Division I-AA football, Carter won as many games (31) as his predecessors had won in their last eight seasons. In the 19 seasons before Carter arrived, Holy Cross had four winning seasons; the Crusaders had four in his first four seasons.

His five-year record at Holy Cross was 35-19-2; he was named Division I-AA coach of the year in 1983.

Carter's players remembered him yesterday not only as a winning coach, but as a man who cared for them.

"Most of the team is just shocked," senior quarterback Patrick McCarthy told the Associated Press, and that was borne out by an announcement later in the day that the school would offer counseling to the entire team. "I'll remember him as a coach and as a friend, someone who played a big part in our lives for four years."

"He made us winners. He got us to believe," said Steve Raquet, a former Holy Cross lineman who now plays with the Montreal Concordes of the Canadian Football League.

His players had expected to see Carter at a banquet Sunday night. Instead, an assistant coach informed them of his death at a 3 p.m. meeting. Gregg Burke, the sports information director, said there were tears and stunned silence. The banquet was canceled.

Williams said a new football coach will be named sometime after Carter's funeral, scheduled for Friday in Dayton, Ohio. A memorial service has been scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday in the St. Joseph's Chapel on the Holy Cross campus.