Former Maryland basketball star Len Elmore said yesterday that he is interested in replacing Lew Perkins as the university's athletic director, calling the job "a challenge that I've looked forward to and have trained for."

"I've been disappointed over what has transpired there and I want to help," Elmore said in a telephone interview from his home in New York. "I've always believed that I could do more than throw money at the problem."

Elmore said he expects to talk with university president William E. Kirwan soon to discuss his interest in the position, which became open Monday when Perkins accepted the athletic director's job at Connecticut.

Kirwan will decide by Friday whether to begin immediately a search for a permanent athletic director or wait until fall, one of his top aides said yesterday.

Kirwan continued to solicit advice and suggestions from colleagues on that issue and on possible interim candidates, according to Kathryn Costello, vice president of institutional development. She also said it is uncertain whether Kirwan will name an interim director, regardless of the decision he makes on the replacement process.

Perkins, who takes over at Connecticut Aug. 15, has agreed to remain at Maryland for several weeks.

Meanwhile, George Mason Athletic Director Jack Kvancz and sports attorney and former American University basketball coach Ed Tapscott, two area administrators mentioned as possible successors to Perkins, said they are not interested in the job.

"From what I know of the job, four years from now it'll be a super job," said Kvancz, echoing what other athletic administrators have said privately. "But it probably will put the new guy in the grave."

Kvancz, runner-up to Perkins for the UConn job, was referring to Maryland's NCAA problems (the men's basketball program is on three years' probation with two years of sanctions for violations under former coach Bob Wade), financial problems (an expected $3.7 million deficit by the end of the current fiscal year), and low morale in the department.

Although Elmore said he probably would face a pay cut, he expressed willingness to tackle the imposing job of rebuilding the Terrapins' athletic fortunes. Elmore, 38, who played for the Terrapins from 1971 to '74, is a basketball analyst for CBS-TV and Raycom-Jefferson Pilot. An attorney, he recently resigned from a position with the King's County (New York) District Attorney's office.

In addition to his television work, Elmore has stayed close to Maryland by serving on the university task force that was formed after the cocaine-induced death of Len Bias in 1986, as well as the search committee that led to the hiring of Gary Williams as basketball coach in 1989.

Perkins and Elmore, who worked together on the search committee, recently discussed Elmore's coming to Maryland as the university's NCAA compliance officer. It is expected that Gerald Gurney, an associate athletic director who serves as compliance officer and runs the school's academic support program, will begin concentrating on the latter.

"I was giving that {position} some heavy consideration," Elmore said. "This resignation and move to Connecticut caught me by surprise."

Kirwan met with his cabinet yesterday afternoon, then held a meeting at Cole Field House with the school's coaches.

"It was a general pep talk, telling them to hang in there," said one source. "You don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that this is an important time for the department. Things are bad, but if they go out and get a heavy hitter, all of a sudden they're looking better."

Whoever comes into the position will have to deal with a department mired in bureaucracy and virtually torn apart by factions. "No one likes anybody else there," said the source.

Sue Tyler, another associate athletic director, said she hopes that whoever is named will be able to eliminate the in-fighting and become established as the department's sole authority.

"Perhaps it would be part of the negotiating process," she said. "There are structural things that should be done; someone who's his or her own person to put their own system in place. In that sense, perhaps an outsider would be in a better position to position things the way they wanted."

Another athletic department source added that the new athletic director "should be able to tell Dr. Kirwan, 'I may have to do some things that won't make me very popular but this is what needs to be done.' "

Elmore said he's aware of the cliques in Maryland's athletic department and the problems with the job, but added that he was confident Kirwan was willing to vest authority in whoever filled the position.

"Knowing Kirwan the way I do," Elmore said, "I have no doubt that once the person is chosen for the job and after they sit down for a series of person-to-person talks, they'll both come away with the confidence that they'll be able to do some healing with all the people who have different agendas.

"There should be some common ground for all of them. . . . I don't want to be a candidate if I'm going to find myself in a battle versus other candidates and have things become divisive -- the thing is to get the program going again."

Most sources agree that one factor that could work in Elmore's favor is that Kirwan hasn't yet decided which direction he will take. If he asks Perkins to stay on until the end of the month, for example, he could delay naming an interim replacement.

"He could run a search committee now, decide he wasn't happy with it and then do it again later," said Tyler. "He may be toying with the idea of whether or not this is an attractive job for an outsider right now, or do we need a year of healing to get things behind us?

"My perception is that we would be attractive right now. Every Maryland job has had an abundance of applicants -- no matter what the problems."

Kirwan was chairman of the search committee that recommended Perkins in 1987. One of the athletic directors contacted by the committee in that search was Tom O'Connor, who had just moved to Santa Clara after serving in the same job for 10 years at Loyola (Baltimore). Unlike many of his peers, O'Connor's interest is piqued by the Maryland job.

"Someone on the committee called me" during the previous search, O'Connor said in a telephone interview. "I had just moved my family here, and I didn't pursue it. I didn't think it was morally or ethically right to do that. This time it intrigues me, and I'd have to say I'm interested."

Among others mentioned as possibilities for the job, Arizona State Athletic Director Charles Harris is out of the country this week and George Washington Athletic Director Steve Bilsky has not determined his interest. Bilsky and Perkins were assistants to Harris in his previous job at the University of Pennsylvania.