George Perles, former MSU coach, is dead at 85


EAST LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – George Perles, the former Michigan State University head football coach who went on to be an MSU Board of Trustee member, passed away on Tuesday, January 7th.

A graduate of Western High School in Detroit, Perles played football there under coach Ed Rutherford. Perles then served in the Army before enrolling at Michigan State and beginning his football career.

He was a lettered as a tackle in 1958, Spartan assistant coach from 1967 to 1971 and served as MSU Athletics Director from 1990 to 1992.

Perles received his bachelor’s degree from Michigan State in 1960 and a master’s degree in educational administration in 1961.

Perles spent 10 years in the 1970s with Pittsburgh Steelers Hall of Fame head coach Chuck Noll, including the last three as assistant head coach. Perles molded a strong defense which played a major role in Pittsburgh’s two back to back Super Bowl championships in 1974 and 1975 as well as 1978 and 1979.

Perles led the Spartan football program from 1983 to 1994, according to a press release by Michigan State Athletic Communications Associate Director Ben Phlegar.

In addition to two Big Ten titles in 1987 and 1990, the Spartan coach had seven bowl appearances in his 12 seasons.

Three of his teams finished among the nation’s Top 25, including the 1987 Big Ten Championship team that ranked No. 8 in the final polls following a win over USC in the Rose Bowl. Perles tutored nine first-team All-Americans and 50 of his players were selected in the NFL Draft, including nine first-rounders. Perles finished his Spartan coaching career with a 68-67-4 record.

Perles who was 85 when he passed away was inducted into the Michigan State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2007.

In addition, Perles also spent 12 years as a member of the Michigan State Board of Trustees from 2007 to 2018.

Below is George Perles’ obituary, written by Tracey Taylor Perles.

GEORGE J. PERLES July 16, 1934 – January 7, 2020

George J. Perles, former Michigan State University head coach and Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach, passed away yesterday in East Lansing from complications of Parkinson’s Disease. Perles was 85 years old.

Perles, the only son of Julius and Nellie Perles, was born and raised on the west side of Detroit. Julius was a payroll clerk at the Ford Rouge Plant. Nellie was a tough cookie who worked in the Ford Plant during the war. Throughout his life, George credited his tenacity and strong sense of loyalty to growing up in a melting pot neighborhood with strong ethnic ties.

After graduating from Western High School in 1954, Perles and 15 of his buddies concurrently joined the US Army. At that time, the Army allowed friends who joined together to remain together during basic training. Their unique enlistment was covered by the Detroit Times.

While serving his country in Hawaii, Perles, an all-state tackle, was offered football scholarship by legendary Michigan State University (MSU) football coach Duffy Daugherty. When a game ending knee injury sidelined his football career, Perles began his long coaching career as an assistant to his future mentor, Duffy Daugherty.

While at MSU, Perles met Sally Bradford, a native of Royal Oak. The two married in 1958 and started their life together in married housing at the university.

After graduating from MSU, Perles coached high school teams in Chicago and Michigan. He led St. Ambrose High School to win its first Detroit City League Football Championship in 1961. Perles returned to his alma mater and served as MSU’s defensive line coach under Duffy Daugherty before being recruited by Chuck Noll to serve as defensive line coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972.

In Perles’ first season, the Steelers made the NFL playoffs for only the second time in franchise history. Perles rose through the ranks of the Steelers, serving as defensive coordinator and assistant head coach. During his tenure, the Steelers enjoyed a national reputation as a defensive powerhouse relying on Perles’ “Stunt 4-3” defense. During Perles’ tenure, the Steelers garnered six consecutive AFC Central division championships and four Super Bowls.

In 1982, Perles was named head coach for MSU, his dream job. He led the Spartans to two Big Ten Conference Titles and seven post-season bowl appearances. On New Year’s Day in 1988, Perles’ Spartans defeated USC in the Rose Bowl.

Perles’ Spartan teams featured nine first-round National Football League draft picks including Carl Banks, Mark Ingram, Lorenzo White and Andre Rison. Perles’ first recruit was Pat Shurmur, former head coach for the Cleveland Browns and the New York Giants.

Perles served as MSU’s athletic director for two years. In his retirement, Perles was elected to the MSU Board of Trustees. He served for 12 years until he resigned in 2018 due to health concerns.

In addition to his wife, Sally, Perles leaves behind four children, Kathy of Washington, PA., Terry (Tracey) of Pittsburgh, John (Amy) of Grand Rapids and Pat (Karen) of Kansas City and six grandchildren.

Details of Perles’ funeral service are pending.

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