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Their Life is a (Basket) Ball. SPORTS: COACHING COUPLE

WHEN the Plymouth State men's basketball coach gets home at midnight, he's greeted by the women's basketball coach - his wife. Suzan and Phil Rowe may be the only couple with his-and-her varsity basketball teams, but like millions of other couples they like to compare notes on the day's events - no matter what the hour.

The discussions almost always center on their two ``families'' - either the one at home (they have two apple-cheeked, preschool daughters), or the extended version, which is two dozen or so basketball players.

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``If I get home late, Sue will get up and we'll talk,'' Phil says. ``It doesn't have to be basketball; it's about how the kids were, where we've been, and so forth.''

The logistics involved in their parallel pursuits are dizzying. Endless baby-sitting arrangements must be made, both in Plymouth and at their residence in Bristol, 20 miles away. Transportation requires close coordination, for parents as well as sitters, some of whom are varsity players.

``It's a little confusing, but fun,'' says Sue, during a conversation in the family's cozy living room, where Chia, 2, and Kimberly, 13 months, supply giggles and disarming smiles. ``Organization is the key to anything that's going to be successful, and I think I'm pretty organized.'' So far the arrangement has worked beautifully, according to the Rowes and Plymouth State administrators.

``A lot of institutions might not view this as a good situation,'' Phil says, ``but Plymouth State College has been totally supportive.''

A sense of togetherness, of course, is inevitable, given the scale of things in Plymouth, which is in the central New Hampshire ski country. The town has 4,500 citizens, the school 3,500 students, and the bleacher-lined gym a 2,000-seat capacity.

Because of the Rowes, however, the men's and women's squads are linked more tightly than usual. That helps at the small-college, Division III level, where teams must share so much, including a bus (a good opportunity for husband-wife conversations, Phil says).

This mutual-support system may even be a factor in the results the coaches are getting. The men's team, 17-3 at press time, is having its finest season in school history. The Panthers could wind up with its first Little East conference title. The women are 12-9, a very positive development, in light of the program's sad state (seven wins) before Sue took over in 1987, two years after Phil started coaching the men's team.

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Though not the athletic director at the time, Steve Bamford says, there was no hidden hiring agenda: ``Sue had paid her dues and was the best candidate.''

A BASKETBALL scholarship athlete at the University of New Hampshire, Sue went into high school coaching in her native Massachusetts after graduation, and compiled a sensational record there and at Nashua, N.H. (17-1), before arriving at Plymouth State in 1985.

Phil shows all due respect. ``Sue is very knowledgeable,'' he says of the woman he met six years ago when both coached at a summer basketball camp in Manchester, N.H. He solicits her observations on his team, and says he values her opinions highly - and vice versa. Sue has adopted many of the men's strategies.

Though Sue is only a part-time employee, whose ``office'' hours run from about 2:30 to 7, Phil, who also coaches the nation's top-ranked Division III women's soccer team and serves as the school's director of summer conferences, says they would discuss any job offers either one received to determine what was best for the family.

``Her career is as important as mine,'' he states. ``We both believe in ourselves enough that if one of us got a job somewhere else, we feel the other would be able to find employment in the profession, too, even if not at the level we might like. But working with young people is all we really want.''

``I can't imagine there's another coaching tandem that spends as much time in recruiting, game and practice preparation, academic advising, and all the other things that go into a sound program,'' says Plymouth athletic head Bamford, who witnesses the Rowes' putting in long working days, sometimes 16 hours or more.

Phil figures he could carve out more time for the family by eliminating his commute to work (about 20 minutes on single-lane highways). He's kidded Mr. Bamford about subdividing his boss's large house lot so that the Rowes, too, could live less than a mile off campus.

It might be a good way to keep Plymouth State's ``family affair'' intact.

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