THE DECISION THIS week by University of Utah athletic director Chris Hill to relieve head basketball coach Lynn Archibald of his duties and eat his $65,000-plus contract for next season reflected the identity crisis Utah basketball has been experiencing in the `80s.

Archibald's ouster wasn't based so much on his inability to coach college basketball; indeed, as both a recruiter and a strategist, he often excelled.It was based on what Hill diplomatically glossed over as "A lot of things."

In American, that means that under Archibald, the Utes were OK at many things, but not terrific at any.

To safely hang onto a college job in this country, a head coach should obey at least one of the following five laws:

- Graduate most of your players with honors, like they do at Yale.

- Win most of your games, like they do at Nevada-Las Vegas.

- Play entertaining basketball, like they do at Loyola-Marymount.

- Fill most of your seats, like they do at Syracuse.

- Or, develop an interpersonal relationship with the school president and/-or an influential booster, preferrably through a strong bond, like marrying into the family.

Lynn Archibald never did embarrass his school. He was a civilized man. He obeyed the Scout Oath. He obeyed the recruiting rules, so far as he understood them. He didn't send cash through the mail. He didn't belittle his players publicly. He didn't throw chairs. He didn't kick water coolers. He didn't attack referees. He was kind to the press. Most of his players and rival coaches liked and respected him. He didn't dress or act like a slob. He didn't alter transcripts.

But he didn't fullfill any of the five above-listed laws, either.

During Archibald's six years at Utah, his players were conspicuously absent on graduation day, particularly in the Phi Beta Kappa lineup. (Personal aside: Hanging graduation rates and grade point averages on a basketball coach is grossly unfair, like hanging a basketball player's scoring average on the English Dept.).

That wasn't enough to hurt him all by itself.

His six-year record of 98-86 included three winning seasons and three losing seasons, and one trip to the NCAA tournament.

That wasn't enough to hurt him all by itself.

His teams tended to play stall-ball when they had the lead, and basically looked upon anything over an eight-point win as a rout.

That wasn't enough to hurt him all by itself.

Average attendance declined during his six years. From 11,798 in 1984, year one, to a high point of 12,418 in 1985, then 11,110-per-game in 1986, 9,275 in 1987, 10,394 in 1988, and 10,191 in 1989.

That wasn't enough to hurt him all by itself.

But, added together, all of the above created an indictment, especially since Archibald couldn't find anywhere in his past any direct relationship to U. of U. president Chase Peterson, or to any of the people who give enough money to have university buildings named after them.

His dismissal is not unusual. Being an NCAA Division I basketball coach has all the stability of a penny stock. Over the past 20 years, the average yearly turnover rate at the nearly 300 Div. I schools has hovered right around 17 percent. English translation: For every six coaches who start the season, one won't be around to start the next one.

It's a competitive jungle out there. But not necessarily an unfair competitive jungle. To stay employed, you have to specialize. There are plenty of examples that obeying just one or two of the commandments will suffice. Look at Bobby Knight, or Jerry Tarkanian, or Paul West-head, or Dick Kuchen.

Hill knew that Archibald had all his pluses, but he also knew he hadn't serviced any of the laws that give you identity. And to hang onto his job, that's the one law an athletic director knows he has to follow.