When University of Maryland basketball coach Bob Wade was forced to resign in May 1989, his supporters wanted athletic director Lew Perkins fired.

It wasn't surprising that Gary Williams, Wade's replacement, became the man in the middle of a divisive feud. Perkins left of his own volition yesterday for a similar job at the University of Connecticut. And, as campus president William E. Kirwan began soliciting names for an interim athletic director, the end of the fuss between Wade's supporters and Perkins was not lost on the new coach.

"Any time there is a situation like that, there are people who have opinions about it -- strong feelings," Williams said. "It's natural everywhere, not just at Maryland. Hopefully {Perkins's move} will resolve those feelings and we can go on."

Williams plans to use Perkins's departure after three stormy years in College Park as a rallying point. "It gives you a chance to regroup," he said. "You can get people excited again. Hopefully it will work out that way."

Perkins hired Williams 13 months ago, a month after Wade, in the middle of an NCAA investigation that resulted in three years' probation with severe sanctions, resigned under pressure. But Williams said he is as committed as ever to rebuilding his alma mater's basketball program.

"I came here to get this basketball team in good shape," he said. "It was a commitment I made to the university, my professional commitment. . . . You don't do it in one year. Look at programs like Duke and Georgia Tech."

In Baltimore, Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, one of Wade's closest friends and one of the leaders of the Black Legislative Caucus that sought Perkins's ouster, said Perkins's departure "was just a matter of time . . .

"Black elected officials want the same things everybody else wants. We want it to be one of the top public research universities in the country. . . . This offers Dr. Kirwan an opportunity to make a fine choice, to get someone with impeccable credentials."

Before he starts the search for a permanent replacement, Kirwan plans to announce an interim director "within the next few days."

He spent much of yesterday asking members of his cabinet and other campus officials for suggestions, according to Kathryn Costello, the vice president for institutional development. "He was soliciting advice," she said.

Kirwan's cabinet has a regularly scheduled meeting Wednesday, but Costello said, "I'd be stunned if he had a solution by {then}."

Sources close to Kirwan indicated yesterday it is unclear whether Kirwan will tap a campus administrator or someone outside the university for the interim job.

Costello indicated that Kirwan may have reservations about appointing a senior administrator because he expects them to be busy this fall. That was one reason, sources said, why Kirwan is not considering Charles F. Sturtz, vice president for administrative services, who served as the interim athletic director from Dick Dull's resignation in Oct. 1986 until Perkins came in mid-1987.

"This will not be an easy fall to have an interim person," Costello said.

Although Perkins had lost his enthusiasm for the job, according to several sources, and his support from campus leaders had suffered "continual erosion" in recent months, as one source put it, Kirwan had only words of praise and respect for Perkins in a statement released by the president's office.

"Lew Perkins took the leadership of our . . . athletic department at a challenging and difficult time," Kirwan said. "We really appreciate his service to the university over the past three years."

"Schools runs themselves," Williams told a television station. "People come, people go."