Howard University fired men's basketball coach Kirk Saulny and his two paid assistant coaches, Darryl Bruce and Lamont Franklin, yesterday for violating NCAA and university rules.

In addition, the university declared junior forward Donte Lincoln and sophomore forward Darren Kennedy ineligible for the remainder of this season, and told volunteer assistant coach Eric Saulny, Kirk Saulny's older cousin, his services no longer will be accepted.

"We cannot and will not tolerate any conduct inconsistent with NCAA bylaws and our own Code of Ethics and Conduct," vice president of student affairs Ray Archer said in a statement released by the university.

Howard, which has lost 22 consecutive games, will play North Carolina A&T in its Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference season opener today at Burr Gymnasium, as scheduled, athletic department spokesman Ed Hill said.

In its statement, the university said Athletic Director Hank Ford will name an interim coach. Ford declined to comment early yesterday and could not be reached after the university released its statement. Ford has served as the men's basketball coach at Hampton and Tuskegee. A source said last night that Ford has told colleagues he will not serve as the interim coach. A former Bison coach, A.B. Williamson, now serves as the athletic department's NCAA compliance officer.

NewsChannel 8 reported last night that William Coward, kicking coach for the Bison football team the past seven years, will be named the interim men's basketball coach.

The rules violations were uncovered during an internal investigation of the program that began this past summer after the NCAA's enforcement staff asked university officials to review allegations it had received.

Robert L. Clayton, a New Orleans-based attorney and part-time Tulane University Law School professor, conducted the probe and submitted his report to the university in December. A spokesman said the university will not comment on the details of its findings, pending a review by the NCAA.

Howard's response to the violations yesterday could be a mitigating factor when the NCAA Infractions Committee considers sanctions against the university in the case. But Howard is still investigating alleged NCAA rules violations in the women's basketball program, and has issued no statement concerning an NCAA investigation of alleged rules violations in the baseball program.

Three members of the NCAA enforcement staff, including a supervisor, spent three days on campus this week conducting interviews relevant to the men's program. Attempts to reach Thomas Hosty, an NCAA director of enforcement who was among the three representatives here, were unsuccessful. NCAA spokesman Wally Renfro said the organization does not confirm or comment on any ongoing enforcement matter.

The inquiry centered around the recruitment of Lincoln, a junior college transfer from Los Angeles, and an alleged attempt to cover up rules violations, sources familiar with the probe said.

The areas of the inquiry included allegations that:

* Lincoln's transcript had been altered.

* Lincoln's junior college coach Richard Wells, traveled here with the player at Howard's expense (an NCAA rules violation if true, although Wells has denied he traveled here with Lincoln).

* Benefits not allowed under NCAA rules were given to Howard players during Lincoln's paid recruiting visit.

* Kirk Saulny provided Howard players a benefit not allowed under NCAA rules when he gave them complimentary tickets to a Washington Wizards game that he had received.

The university had been withholding Lincoln and Kennedy, who was Lincoln's host during his official paid recruiting visit a year ago, from practices and games during its investigation.

Kirk Saulny, Bruce and Franklin were told to vacate their offices by the end of the business day yesterday and departed around 3 p.m., campus sources said.

Attempts to reach both Saulnys, Bruce and Franklin were unsuccessful last night.

Kirk Saulny was hired by Howard in June 1998, replacing Mike McLeese, now the coach at the University of the District of Columbia. He had been a respected assistant coach at UNC Wilmington, Columbia and Tulane. The Bison had a 2-25 record last season and are 0-9 this season.

Eric Saulny, 48, graduated from San Jose State and coached high school basketball in Los Angeles prior to serving as a graduate assistant under Jerry Tarkanian at Nevada-Las Vegas during the 1983-84 and 1984-85 seasons. He had been out of coaching when he began helping his cousin at Howard. He used his West Coast contacts to recruit four players from Los Angeles for this season, including Lincoln.

Special correspondent Jeff Seidel contributed.