Penn State: Rumors of Paterno health 'just lies'


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TAMPA, Fla. -- Sue Paterno is fed up with all the nasty rumors circulating about her husband.

"It's just lies," she said Monday in a rare interview.

Word has been rampant for weeks on the Internet that serious health problems would force Joe Paterno to retire after Penn State's game Saturday against Florida in the Outback Bowl.

Sue denied that, saying her husband's health "is fine."

But when asked if the New Year's Day game at Raymond James Stadium would be the final one of her husband's storied career, she said, "We haven't talked about it."

The Paternos' daughter, Mary Kay Hort, was quick to add, "It is not his planned last game."

Joe Paterno, 84, is the winningest coach in Division I-A history with 401 victories.

Four days before the Nov. 27 regular-season finale, he said he planned to return for his 46th season as the Nittany Lions' coach in 2011.

But Paterno, whose three-year contract expires at the end of next season, admitted then the decision would not entirely be his.

Asked before the Ladies Luncheon at Roy's Restaurant Monday if her husband has met with Penn State administrators about his future, Sue Paterno said: "No."

"We talk to [athletic director] Tim [Curley] a lot. We talk to his wife a lot," she said. "We're all friends. That's one good thing about Penn State. We're all family."

Twenty-four of the 29 Paterno family members have gathered this week -- David and his family couldn't make it -- for the New Year's Day game. There has been little or no talk about this possibly being Joe's last game.

"Since he was 65, that's been the big question," Sue Paterno said in reference to a retirement question.

"Everybody's been saying he's going to retire," Hort said. "Some day, somebody might get it right."

Hort believes her dad "got even more energetic and stronger during the course of the season."

Sue Paterno said Monday she's not sure "who started the crazy rumors" about her husband's health.

"I mean, he's [supposedly] in the hospital when he's sitting at the table for dinner," she said. "He wasn't even near the hospital."

Sue Paterno said when Penn State first arrived Dec. 19 in the Tampa area to begin bowl preparations, she received numerous calls at her house in State College inquiring about Joe Paterno's health.

"I told people when they called last week, I said, 'He's fine, he's in Florida,' " she recalled. "They said, 'No he's not, he's in the hospital.' I said, 'No, he's in Florida ... you don't know what you're talking about.' ...

"I thought, `Did something happen on the flight? But I talked to him every night, and said, `Are you OK?' He said, `Yeah, why?'

"My only frustration is who starts [these rumors] and why? And that would be a good answer. We didn't start it. ... We're the last ones to hear. So we're surprised."

The Paternos' daughter-in-law, Kelley Paterno, the wife of quarterbacks coach Jay, summed up the frustration the Paterno family has been feeling.

"The story becomes a story, but there's no story," she said. "And that becomes a story, that there's no story."

Hort said reports of a private jet bringing the entire Paterno family to Florida for what would be Paterno's final game are false.

"There are no private planes," she said.

Sue believes Joe, who is expected to appear today at a scheduled news conference, has left an enduring legacy, no matter what his future holds.

"You want me to tell you the truth?" she said. "I think he'll be remembered for what he's done with his life, not what he's done on the football field. ... Football has given him a vehicle to be able to be as successful as he's been, and I think he's been able to maintain his values."


Ron Musselman: rmusselman@post-gazette.com . First Published December 28, 2010 5:00 AM


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