Lew Perkins can vividly recall his own summer of love, dancing in the aisles in suburban Philadelphia at a 1981 outdoor concert by the Beach Boys. He can remember it because, he says, "it was the last time I was happy."

The line is delivered with a smile but the laugh lines don't take hold on his face. His expression indicates his words may be barely an exaggeration.

Being athletic director at the University of Maryland these days, with the budget cuts and NCAA sanctions and the transfers and arrests, is certainly difficult. Perkins's wife, Gwen, says that even when he sets foot in their Hyattsville residence, his mind is still over in College Park, and that at some point during his almost three-year tenure at Maryland, some of Perkins's good cheer has been lost.

"Maryland is tough and he can't get away from it because he's always thinking about it," she said. "I think it wears on him. I may be too close to see it but my father says 'Lew doesn't laugh anymore' and when I hear that I know that it's true."

With a national reputation as a first-rate repairman of sputtering athletic programs, Perkins wasn't hired by Maryland to be a barrel of laughs. Rather it was hoped he would duplicate his success at Wichita State, which went from a renegade operation to a model of comportment under Perkins between 1983 and 1987.

The Terrapins didn't appear to be in the same dire straits as the Shockers, who had been placed on NCAA probation for basketball in 1982 and forced to suspend football in 1986. But four years after the cocaine-induced death of Maryland basketball star Len Bias, Perkins still is struggling to get a handle on the Terrapins' continuing problems.

Maryland became tainted by scandal and donations fell off. Facilities suffered, the football coach left and the basketball coach was replaced by a man who appeared to never grasp the magnitude of the job. Sides were taken and feelings were hurt; rules were broken.

Fund-raising withered and the football team went into serious decline. Another basketball coach. More violations. NCAA probation. Athlete transfers and a coach's arrest for driving while intoxicated. Multimillion-dollar budget deficits.

On top of that, Perkins must work within a multilayered bureaucracy that at times moves with all the alacrity of a plate of escargot.Total Commitment

"I live my job 24 hours a day; for me to say anything less would be a lie," he said. "That's a commitment I made when I became an athletic director. You cannot leave the job behind; it's impossible. Let's be honest, the media part alone is exhausting, then the phone rings at two o'clock in the morning . . .

"There are things we're trying to do that I'm surprised hadn't been done more before. A lot of what we have to do is grass-roots stuff. The bureaucracy is tough. That makes it difficult. There are things that I'd like to see move much quicker and I'm not going to sit here and tell you it doesn't frustrate me; it does. And then there are things that move very quickly, probably too quickly.

"I guess the way I look at it is that that's the way it is, those are the ground rules and you accept them and go out and get it done."

There's some disagreement as to how successful Perkins has been. One school official said recently that in Washington truth isn't as important as perception and the perception of Maryland athletics is that the program is fast becoming a lost cause.

Although there are times he gets out of bed wondering "what else could happen" to the department, Perkins disagrees with that assessment. He maintains that every college and university is involved in crisis management right now and says Maryland actually is ahead of the curve in solutions to the problems.

"It's funny, it's sort of a mixed bag," agreed a colleague, compliance officer Gerald Gurney. "These are down times now, but you can see him doing long-term things that could be state of the art."

Instead of going cup in hand, begging for some television money or to participate in the Atlantic Coast Conference men's basketball tournament, Perkins said "Maryland stood tall and proud" at last week's ACC meetings in Myrtle Beach, S.C., accepting its exclusion from the 1991 tournament and moving on from there.

In one meeting of athletic directors and faculty representatives, Perkins said, he outlined the four-tiered plan for cost reductions among his school's 23 varsity sports and immediately afterward representatives of three schools asked if they could come to College Park to study and copy the plans as guidelines for their institutions.

"Six months from now, a year from now, not many people will remember that we tiered," he said. "Once the program starts working and we begin to get ourselves back to some real programming and doing the kinds of things we should be doing and doing it the way we should be doing it -- three years from now they'll probably look back and say, 'God, what a great decision.' "

But not now. The plan, revealed two weeks ago and designed to attack a $3.5 million deficit in fiscal year 1991, evoked yelps from coaches and athletes in the 17 sports that comprise the lower three tiers, all of which will receive less money next season.

Even before the program was disclosed, Perkins was vilified as the hardheart who wanted to cut four sports (golf, gymnastics and men's and women's tennis) altogether. Afterward there were whispers that Perkins had kept women's volleyball as a fully funded sport because his oldest daughter, Amy, a freshman at Maryland this year, played the sport in high school as does his younger daughter Holly, a high school junior soon eligible to receive a scholarship in the sport.

Lew Perkins says that once Amy found out she'd have to give up her Saturday nights to play on the Terrapins she quit the sport. Gwen Perkins adds that it's unlikely Holly would be offered a scholarship even if she did decide to go to Maryland.

"That's when people don't understand Lew Perkins," he said. "Lew Perkins makes decisions based on what's best for the program."

Although his thoughts may not always be apparent, there's no mistaking Perkins's presence as he walks through Cole Field House. No matter what the profession there's tension inherent in a boss-employee relationship, but when the boss is as physically imposing as Perkins intimidation becomes a real factor as well.

Tim Wiser, a former assistant athletic director at Wichita State, told Regardie's magazine, "I can recall many staff meetings when we'd be fearing for our lives because of his unhappiness over one thing or another."

When agitated, Perkins can shout in a booming voice that easily carries through the office door, which is usually closed to the public. Then there's the massive forefinger he waves with all the authority of a butcher carving into a side of beef.

"He's already big enough to scare you but that finger is truly the exclamation point," said one employee.

Asked if he thought Perkins the man to lead Maryland through its morass, Gurney responded by saying: "It's really difficult to answer that. I'm not in a position to evaluate him -- I work for him."

Perkins doesn't think of himself as oozing intimidation but rather wielding "organizational control."

"When you tell someone 'no' who's never been told 'no' before you get that," he said. "You're told to come in and do this, be tough in this area, and perhaps that's somewhere where people ran loose before and you tell them: no, that's not fear, that's organizational control. If you made decisions based on whether everyone liked you or not, you wouldn't be very effective."

But Perkins does want to be liked by everybody. Place him in a setting like the ACC meetings or his recent project to establish branches of the Terrapin Club throughout the state, give him a chance to glad-hand and he's in his glory. Even in an office setting, Perkins says he tries to temper his laying down of the law by remembering the birthdays of the people who work for him and sending them cards with handwritten notes.

Basketball players Greg Nared and Dave Dickerson graduated last week and have gotten jobs for fall with Perkins's help. Dickerson had taken sides with former coach Bob Wade -- which essentially meant going against Perkins -- during the internal squabbling that characterized Wade's final year, but the athletic director nevertheless offered his support.

Late last week, Perkins said that, "if I thought he were sincere," he would offer that same support to another former player, Rudy Archer, who was central in the violations that led to the Terrapins' current three-year probation.

"I think it's important to let people know that you care, so that if you do have to say no to someone they'll understand that it's a business decision, not a personal one," he said.

The approach has worked with some. Although he didn't wish to be interviewed for this story, Bill Goodman, the track and field coach who lost all his scholarships as a result of the departmental realignment, said: "As a coach who works for him, Perkins has supported me 100 percent."

Swimming coach Steve Mahaney, who had disagreements with his boss and lost 70 percent of his scholarships in falling to the third tier, said he "still trusts Mister Perkins."So Many Constituencies

The ability to foster that kind of loyalty is one reason Perkins considers himself a "great athletic director.

"I think it's {because of} a number of things. First of all, I love athletics, I love my job, I love what I do. It's frustrating sometimes but I think being a car salesman or a doctor is too. What worse thing could happen than if you're a doctor operating on someone and they die? . . .

"I have a lot of confidence in what I do. I think I do it very well. There are people out there I'm sure who don't think I do it very well, but reasonable people can have reasonable differences.

"There are so many constituencies. I've got the alumni, I've got the student-athletes, I got the coaches, the administration. I got everybody who ever thought about the fact that they coached little league something or other thinking that they can do my job.

"And you have to be aware of that. When I make a decision I try to be aware of as many facets as I possibly can so that I can be sensitive. But sometimes you can't be sensitive to the whole thing -- you have to make a decision on what's best for the program and go with it."

That's why, despite being a former collegiate athlete and fully understanding the importance of competing to a youngster, Perkins would still consider dropping some varsity sports.

It's also why football coach Joe Krivak, despite being virtually everything Perkins wants from someone in a position of leadership and working against a brutal schedule, knows that if there isn't an improvement from last season's 3-7-1 mark he may find himself shuffled to another department or dropped to tier five -- unemployment.

But such decisions likely would exact a personal cost. Some of those close to Perkins, who wondered if he would lose his compassion after taking on the problems that came with the Maryland job, now ask if the last three years have soured him on his work.

"We've been at this for 22 years," said Gwen Perkins of the couple's stops at South Carolina-Aiken, Penn, Wichita State and Maryland. "I could never envision him doing anything else before. Now I'm not so sure."