Beloved former MSU football coach has died

Published: Jan. 8, 2020 at 10:29 AM EST
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Former Michigan State University football coach and Board of Trustees member George Perles has died.

He died on Tuesday night at Timber Ridge, an assisted living facility in East Lansing, sources confirmed to News 10.

He was the head football coach at MSU from 1983 - 1994, and won two Big Ten Championships in '87 and '90. He also led the Spartans to their first Rose Bowl appearance in 1988 where MSU beat the USC Trojans 20-17. Perles was also named Big Ten Coach of the Year in 1987.

He was born in July of 1934 and died at age 85.

Perles, an MSU alum, also served on the Board of Trustees from 2006 to November 2018. He left the board due to health reasons.

“I have known George for many years and his dedication to the university is beyond compare,” Brian Breslin said when he received the letter of resignation from the board from Perles.

Vice-chair of the Board and fellow trustee, Joel Ferguson, said at that time that Perles will be remembered for his toughness on the field of competition and for his love of all things Spartan.

“George and I go way back, and his dedication to our great institution has endured,” Ferguson said. “He has given more than 60 years to our beloved institution.”

Perles wrote in his letter of resignation from the board, the decision was not easy, and cited medical reasons for stepping down. He had Parkinson's disease.

He said that Michigan State has been a home for him and his family for almost 65 years. Perles lived on campus in married housing with his wife and two children. He eventually returned to MSU to coach the Spartans and even work for a short time as the athletic director.

He called MSU the "finest in the country," and said his family has bled green and white for most of their lives.

"It's time to step back and allow the next generation to carry the MSU torch," he said upon his retirement from the board.

Perles lived in East Lansing but there was a time when he was in Pittsburgh working as a coach for the Steelers from 1972-1982.

He was the assistant coach under Chuck Noll during the Steelers four Super Bowl championships in the 70's.

He took over as the head coach at Michigan State in 1983 and became the Athletic Director in 1990 until 1992.

His coaching record shows 139 games and a record of 68-67-4 over 12 years at MSU.

Fun fact, according to the MSU media guide, 50 players were drafted to the NFL under Coach Perles, including 9 that went in the first round.

In 1995, according to Wikipedia, Perles and former Michigan State University Sports Information Director, Ken Hoffman, founded and initiated the Motor City Bowl, a college football bowl game played in Detroit the day after Christmas.

He was elected to the MSU board and was a trustee for 12 years.

MSU credits George Perles with returning the team to greatness. "After posting just 10 wins in three seasons prior to his arrival, Perles helped return MSU to national prominence with two bowl appearances in his first three seasons."

Michigan State released the following statements:
Michigan State Athletic Director Bill Beekman:

“Trustee Perles was a great advocate for Michigan State University, and a warm, dear friend. He loved the University with all his heart, serving in many different capacities. My thoughts are with Sally and the Perles family at this difficult time.”

Michigan State Head Football Coach Mark Dantonio:

“Coach Perles exuded confidence, conviction and toughness. He really gave his life to Michigan State, all the way till the end.

“He welcomed me back to MSU when I first became the head coach here. Not many people have been in these shoes, but he was one of them, and was always extremely supportive every step of the way. He was someone you could lean on. Many times over the past 13 years he would speak to our team.

“George was one of the most renowned coaches in America; everybody knew who Coach Perles was and what he brought to the game. He had tremendous success, winning the Rose Bowl and two Big Ten titles, and developed countless NFL players. I first got to know his reputation when I was a graduate assistant at Ohio State. He always brought a blue-collar mentality and really we’ve embraced a lot of things in our program over the years that came from him. He left a legacy and was an impactful figure.

“George was a true Spartan and will be deeply missed. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Perles family during this difficult time.”

Michigan State Head Men’s Basketball Coach Tom Izzo:

“George Perles embraced me from the moment I arrived at Michigan State. He showed me what it meant to be a Spartan, and how to be loyal. Throughout my career, especially as I was getting started, he was one of the people I consulted on any major decision I had to make.

“Lupe and I send our deepest condolences to Sally and the entire Perles family. George is the truest Spartan I have ever met.”

President Stanley

“My heart is with the entire Perles family. Former Trustee George Perles dedicated most of his life to service – service to our country and our university. From the classroom to the playing field, and athletic director to trustee, Mr. Perles embodied what it means to be a Spartan. The university is grateful for his decades of faithful service.”

Trustee Byrum

“This is a sad day for our Spartan family. George’s commitment to service and his passion for all things MSU are how I will remember him. Whether it was contributing to the success of our football program as head coach, guiding our athletics department to provide the very best for student-athletes or bringing his passion for this university – his alma mater – to the board table, George’s impact on this university will be long-lasting. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Sally and the rest of the Perles family during this difficult time.”

Trustee Mosallam

“George Perles promised my late mother he would take care of her son and make him a man by the time he left Michigan State University. He gave her son a kick in the rear when he needed it and a hug and advice when he sought it.

“I will forever cherish the memories I have of Coach Perles both as a player and as a colleague on the MSU Board of Trustees. But I will mostly cherish the memories of our annual Christmas Eve family dinner tradition together in Detroit while he ran the Motor City Bowl. My late mother loved to cook for coach, and he loved her back.

“George touched so many lives. He helped so many people. He was fiercely loyal and never forgot where he came from.

“I am forever grateful for the impact he has had on my life. My broken heart goes out to Sally, John, Pat and the Perles family. We lost a giant today. A man who loved Michigan State University more than anyone could ever imagine.

“Forever he will be my coach. May he rest in peace.”

A little more about George - he was a Detroit native and an Army veteran. He played football at Western High School in Detroit before joining the Army, and then going to MSU.

He played under Coach Duffy Daugherty as a sophomore tackle in 1958, according to a release from Michigan State. They say he got a knee injury playing against Wisconsin that ended his playing career.

He graduated from MSU in 1960 with a bachelor's degree and received his Masters in 1961 in educational administration.

George is survived by his wife Sally and four children - Kathy of Washington, Pa., Terry (Tracey) of Pittsburgh, John (Amy) of Grand Rapids and Pat (Karen) of Kansas City and six grandchildren.

He will be having a private funeral service.

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