The University of Maryland yesterday introduced Gerald S. Gurney as its new assistant athletic director in charge of overseeing the athletic department's academic support unit.

Gurney spent the last three years at Southern Methodist University, whose football program was put out of commission for this season and next season because of recruiting violations.

"The reform at SMU is largely recruiting," Gurney said at a news conference. "I feel that my record and our program was such that it provided SMU with something to be proud of in light of some of the negative things that were happening."

In introducing Gurney, Maryland Athletic Director Lew Perkins said, "We looked at a person who could take our program from where it is today and, in three or four years, make it the best academic support program in the country. . . . We feel that it is one of the most important positions in our athletic program."

Maryland's athletic department came under criticism following revelations of academic shortcomings of athletes following the June 19, 1986 death of basketball star Len Bias. At that time, the academic coordinator was Jim Dietsch, who was later moved to ticket manager and then let go as part of budget cuts in the athletic department.

Perkins said he was not worried about any stigma that might come with hiring anyone from a scandal-plagued school like SMU.

"We did a lot of research, not just on Gerry, but on the other people as well," Perkins said of four other candidates. "Gerry is considered the foremost person in his field. I think if you look at what happened at SMU, there was never a trace of discussion about academic integrity. And I don't believe in guilt by association."

When Gurney was hired by SMU in 1984, 42 percent of the school's football players graduated; a College Football Association survey shows the figure is up to 71 percent.

Gurney said he chose to come to Maryland because of what he perceived as the reform-minded leadership of Maryland Chancellor John Slaughter and Perkins.

"I don't look at Maryland as a troubled program," Gurney said. "But I regard Maryland as searching for reform and mandating it."

Before joining the staff at SMU, Gurney, 36, spent three years in an academic counseling position at Iowa State, where, in 1980, he received his doctorate in higher education administration.

Gurney will earn a salary of about $55,000, according to Perkins. Perkins said he wasn't sure what the academic support unit's budget would be, but estimated it might approach $400,000-$500,000.