WHEN HE BEGAN, Truman and Stalin were still in power, the atomic age had barely begun, a world war had barely ended and minimum wage was 40 cents. In the years that followed, Hemingway and Faulkner wrote, Elvis and the Beatles sang, Jackie Robinson played, Armstrong took one giant step on the moon, whole nations rose and fell.

And through it all, Ralph Maughan went about a quiet, simple life of coaching young men on athletic fields. From the battlefields of Europe and the Detroit Lions, with wounds from both, Maughan went first to Idaho's Ricks College for three years and then returned to his native Cache Valley and his alma mater, Utah State. He has been there ever since.At the end of next month, Ralph Maughan will retire, marking the end of a 40-year era.

Think of it. Four decades. Basketball, football, track and field, he has coached them all, sometimes all in the same year, always while teaching P.E. classes. For the last 33 years he has been Utah State's head track and field coach, coaching hundreds of athletes, including Olympians, national championships and, tellingly, the sons of his former athletes. Alas, at age 65, it's time to turn to other things.

"I don't mind retiring," he says. "It's the age I'm retiring." There are still so many things to do: grandchildren to spoil, camping, hiking, a book to write, travel "to anywhere that doesn't have a deadline."

Maughan wonders where the time has gone. Occasionally, even he is struck by his own longevity. On one recent day he was telling a class about a famous former athlete, thinking he had coached him not so long ago, when suddenly he realized it was 5, 10, 15, no 20 years ago. Most of his students weren't even born then.

"I have records of performances for every athlete I ever coached," he says. "I look at the names and I can't even remember who some are."

Maughan was saying this last weekend as he sat through one more track meet (how many have there been?). The hair is gray and the right eye doesn't see so well anymore; one knee still pains him, a reminder of a 46-year-old football injury. But the body still hints of a former standout football player and trackman the thick, sloping shoulders, the trim waist, the stout legs. Until a few years ago he could still throw the hammer farther than many of his athletes. At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, he's 10 pounds under his college weight, but not by accident. The exercise bike in the basement drives him crazy after a while, so he bikes for five minutes, jumps off and lifts weights for five minutes, then jumps back on the bike and repeats the process. The years have done little to soften the old discipline.

But how to tell about a man's 65 years. He was born and raised in Hyrum and for all but six of his years he has lived in Cache Valley. He started on the basketball team and starred on the football and track teams for USU. He could throw heavy objects farther than almost anyone in the country, having practiced the art of the discus, hammer, javelin and shot in his dad's cow pasture.

Then World War II broke out and the games ended. Maughan and the other USU athletes caught a train en masse from Logan to Fort

Douglas and the war, where Maughan earned a three-year starting job with the 26th Infantry Division in Europe. "Walk until you meet the German army," he was told one day. He did, right into the Battle of the Bulge, where he was pinned down by mortar shells and machine gun fire, holding a bazooka he had never fired and frozen ammunitiion that wouldn't fire. He emerged from the battle with near-frozen feet and hands and shrapnel in one leg. He finished the war with three battle stars, the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

Maughan returned home and resumed his mathematics studies and his athletic career at USU. He was drafted by the Lions and the Cleveland Browns and stayed with the Lions just long enough to incur a career-ending knee injury. He began his coaching career at Ricks in 1948, and three years later he was back at USU, where he has become an institution. The USU track resides in Ralph Maughan Stadium.

"I'll miss working with the athletes if you catch me at the right time," he says. "I really believe if you're around them, you stay younger. And I'll miss being a part of their successes."

There have been many of those. With a paltry budget to work with ($17,000 this year), Maughan has rarely had the luxury of a blue-chip athlete, aside from an occasional L.J. Silvester. He has had to develop talent enough to produce nine Top 20 teams.

He took Mark Enyeart, a 100-meter sprinter from Vernal nobody wanted, and, after much persuasion, convinced him to move up to the 800-meter run. Enyeart won three national championships and became an Olympian. But what has earned Maughan international fame has been his work with weightmen. He took Glenn Passey, a 141-foot discus thrower from Idaho, and turned him into a national champion. He was one of Maughan's seven All-American weightmen.

"Oh, he's the best," says Dan John, a former national-class discus thrower for USU. "He wrote a book on the discus in 1963. There's been nothing better."

And there have been few coaches more durable. He has outlasted shrinking budgets, Title IX, the '70's rebellious athletes, the decline of college track and every man who has ever coached at USU. But come next fall, he will no longer report to his small, cramped office or to the Maughan Stadium track. A younger man will replace him; he will have much to live up to.