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Sue Paterno more than coach's wife at Penn State

August 30, 2009|Genaro C. Armas | Armas writes for the Associated Press.

STATE COLLEGE, PA. — Here's the story behind Joe Paterno's rolled-up pants: Back in the late 1960s, his wife, Sue, suggested he raise the cuffs so mud wouldn't get on his wool slacks while coaching.

That was no longer a worry once JoePa switched to his trademark khakis. "Then it became superstitious," she said. "I don't care if he rolls them up or not, I can just throw them in the washer."

Sue Paterno's influence at Penn State goes far beyond her famous husband's wardrobe.

She has served as a tutor to players, a host for recruiting gatherings, a counselor to concerned parents -- and as a prodigious fundraiser, though for more than athletics.

She is the coach's ultimate sounding board -- they have been married 47 years, after all -- though football isn't her best topic.

"What I know about football," she said, repeating a question during a recent interview with The Associated Press at the family home, waving her hand over her head. "I know offsides in football, and I think I know pass interference."

Leave the Xs and Os to JoePa, the iconic Hall of Fame coach entering another milestone year at Penn State -- his 60th season at the university: An assistant for 16 seasons and 44 as head coach.

He often doesn't deliver over-the-top praise about his Nittany Lions, but he glows about his 69-year-old wife.

"I think people don't realize how much she's done for this place," the 82-year-old Paterno said in a separate interview at his office. "I've said many times that they won't have any problems replacing me, but if they can find a coach's wife like Sue, they'll hit the jackpot."

For all the touted players that he's lured over the years, his biggest recruit is Sue.

They met at the library during her freshman year. The former Suzanne Pohland, of Latrobe, Pa., was the English literature honors student buried in research; Joseph Vincent Paterno was an assistant football coach who checked players in and out of study hall -- a seemingly perfect fit for a man who once planned on going to law school after graduating from Brown University.

Was it love at first sight?

"No, he was telling me to keep studying," she said. "I said, 'Fine, mister, mister, mister.' It took awhile."

They were married in 1962, the year she graduated from Penn State.

And yes, Joe did most of the pursuing.

"Yeah, I was being recruited. I didn't know it," she said.

Sue Paterno taught 10th- and 11th-graders one fall at Bellefonte High School, just north of State College, before leaving after getting pregnant. Diana, the oldest of five children, was born in 1963.

Her family, she said, is her proudest accomplishment.

Her husband took over as head coach in 1966. The job required long hours at home and on the road, so she focused on providing stability for the children.

"I probably have the most invested in that, and they always come first," she said at her spotless kitchen table. "They were willing to take a back seat sometimes when people are in the house."

Feeling guilty that he did not spend enough time with his children when they were younger, Joe Paterno tried to rush home at least once a week for family dinner.

His wife, though, said after one occasion that he was too stressed and that he didn't leave work at the office. So Sue suggested that he take a 15-minute walk home, instead of driving, to decompress.

"Sure enough, when I started to walk home after a lousy practice, by the time I got home, I calmed down," Joe Paterno said. "I think we've had as good a family life as you can have, and that's thanks to Sue."

Outside of family, Sue Paterno has played mentor to players as an English tutor. Over the years, some have come to the house for lessons, other times she goes to the team's study hall.

Some players had been told while being recruited that they couldn't attend Penn State unless they worked with her.

Former tight end Troy Drayton considers Sue Paterno one of his most influential mentors. Drayton left Penn State in 1993 after getting drafted to the NFL, but never finished his degree until last year -- fulfilling a promise he made to Sue Paterno. The head coach told Drayton to come to the house after his graduation ceremony.

The Paternos have lived in the same modest ranch home in a quiet State College neighborhood for 40 years. There is no fence around the front yard and no gates guard the driveway -- though there is a golden door knocker in the shape of a lion's head on the front door.

The doting grandparents have adorned the interior of their home with numerous family pictures, including ones of their 17 grandchildren. One summer day, 10-year-old grandson Robert had just arrived to do chores.

Bowl trips can especially be hectic. With much of the family in tow, the Paternos don't mind that their grandchildren shuffle in and out of their hotel room.

"The cookies and candy are in our room," Sue Paterno said.

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