Eugene L. Roberts Jr., who reshaped the Philadelphia Inquirer as its executive editor in the 1970s and 1980s, will leave his professorship at the University of Maryland this fall for a three-year tour as managing editor of the New York Times.
Mr. Roberts, 61, will become No. 2 to Joseph Lelyveld, 57, a Pulitzer Prize winner who will move up from managing editor to executive editor. Max Frankel, 64, the current executive editor, will step down to write a column on the news business for the New York Times Magazine.
The Times rarely goes outside to hire senior newsroom executives, but in Mr. Roberts, the paper will get "one of the great editors of our time," said Jack Nelson, Washington bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times and a friend ever since they competed on civil rights stories in the South in the 1960s.
In Philadelphia, "Gene Roberts took over a paper regarded as one of the worst big-city papers in America and turned it into one of the best,"said John S. Carroll, editor of The Sun, who was metropolitan editor there under Mr. Roberts. The Inquirer won 17 Pulitzer prizes during Mr. Roberts' 18 years there, from 1972 to 1990.
His alternately eccentric and brilliant newsroom style often won him the fierce loyalty of editors and reporters who worked for him.
Though he now comes from outside, Mr. Roberts is no stranger to the Times. From 1965 to 1972, he was, successively, its chief southern and civil rights correspondent, chief Vietnam war correspondent and national editor.
Mr. Roberts said yesterday he agreed to go back to editing because, "in an age when budgets are being cut almost automatically and routinely in newsrooms, and when superficiality seems sometimes to be a trend, there is a strong commitment at the Times to have a substantial, essential newspaper, and that is an attractive proposition."
Mr. Roberts joined UM's College of Journalism as a tenured professor in September 1991, a year after leaving the Inquirer, and taught two classes each semester.
Mr. Roberts, a North Carolina native, said he expects to return to the College Park campus at the end of a three-year leave of absence the university has given him. Times policies would require him to retire at age 65.