Former Michigan State head football coach and former trustee George Perles died late Tuesday evening, according to an obituary received from his family. He was 85.
Perles, an alumnus of MSU, was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2017. He was first elected to MSU's Board of Trustees in 2006. He retired in November 2018, citing health reasons.
He was seen as an outspoken, sometimes controversial figure in MSU’s administration and athletic program. He was first elected to the MSU Board of Trustees in 2006 and served for 12 years until resignation in November 2018.
"My mobility is compromised and I live with the effects of Parkinson's every day," Perles wrote at the time. "The ramifications of my health issues continue to grow ... at this juncture, I feel that Sally (Perles' wife) deserves some respite. We need to make our life smaller as we age and consider our quality of life. Our family has bled green and white for the better part of our lives. It's time to step back and allow the next generation to carry the MSU torch."
Details of Perles’ funeral service are pending, according to the obituary.
"From the classroom to the playing field, and athletic director to trustee, Mr. Perles embodied what it means to be a Spartan," MSU president Samuel L. Stanley, Jr. said in a university statement. "The university is grateful for his decades of faithful service."
FOOTBALL AND COACHING CAREER
Perles is regarded as one of the most prominent figures in MSU sports history. He was a man who wore many hats in his career in athletics. After finishing high school at Detroit Western, Perles enlisted into the U.S. Army in the early 1950s. When he returned from active duty, Perles began his journey as a Spartan when he joined the football team in 1958, coached by the legendary Duffy Daugherty, the second winningest coach in MSU history. He earned a bachelor's degree in 1960.
He later began his coaching career in 1967 as a defensive line coach on Daugherty’s staff. In 1972, Chuck Noll hired Perles to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers' defensive line.
He was the Steelers’ assistant head coach from 1979 to 1982. He became famous in coaching circles for instituting the “stunt 4-3" defense with the Pittsburgh Steelers, where the defensive tackles and ends cross paths after the snap to confuse the offensive line.
Perles' leadership of the famed "Steel Curtain" defense with talents like Hall of Famer “Mean” Joe Greene helped the Steelers win four Super Bowls.
Perles was tapped to lead the MSU football team in 1982. In twelve seasons, he led the Spartans to two Big Ten conference titles, seven post-season bowl appearances and a 1988 Rose Bowl victory, the first for the school since 1956. He concurrently served as MSU’s athletic director for two years before resigning.
"Coach Perles exuded confidence, conviction, and toughness," current MSU football coach Mark Dantonio said in a statement. "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."
Outside of football, he became known as an advocate for the Special Olympics. In 1987, he created the Kelley Perles Secchia Special Olympics Golf Classic. According to Lansing Business News, this golf outing has raised over $1 million in its 30-year history.
In September 2018, Perles and the rest of the Board of Trustees came under fire after a lawsuit alleged that Perles intervened in an investigation of a 1992 rape committed by convicted felon and ex-MSU faculty Larry Nassar. The lawsuit claimed intervention by Perles — the athletic director at the time — led to the complaint being dropped.
Details of that lawsuit led Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, MSU students and additional lawmakers to call for his resignation.
The suit was dismissed in May 2019.