George Perles, former Michigan State University football coach, AD and trustee, dies at 85

Former Michigan State University football coach, athletic director and trustee George Perles has died.

He was 85. His family said he died Tuesday in East Lansing from complications of Parkinson’s disease.

Perles played football for Michigan State back in the 1950s, then was the team’s head coach from 1983–1994. He also coached in the NFL before returning to Michigan State to serve as the school’s athletic director. He was elected as a Democrat to the Board of Trustees in 2006.

He resigned from his position on the school’s Board of Trustees in November 2018. In his letter of resignation, Perles cited his health issues -- specifically his battle with Parkinson’s disease -- as part of his reason for stepping aside.

George Perles

Perles actually started his football coaching career as a graduate assistant at Michigan State. He then entered the high school ranks, coaching schools in Detroit and Chicago. He led St. Ambrose High School to their first Detroit City League Championship in 1961. Perles returned to Michigan State as a defensive line coach under Duffy Daugherty.

Perles was hired as defensive line coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1972, and became the defensive coordinator in 1978. He was also the assistant head coach of the Steelers from 1979 to 1982.

Perles then took a head coaching job with the Philadelphia Stars of the USFL in 1982, but never made it to the first season after he was offered the head coaching position at Michigan State.

In his 12 years as head coach, Perles led the Spartans to two Big Ten Championships (1987, 1990), and seven bowl games.

Nick Saban, current head football coach of Alabama, worked under Perles as a defensive coach at Michigan State from 1983 to 1987.

Statements from MSU president, trustees

Michigan State University President Samuel L. Stanley Jr., M.D., Board of Trustees Chair Dianne Byrum and Trustee Brian Mosallam issued statements today on the passing of former trustee and longtime Spartan George Perles.

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."

About the Authors: