READ KEITH GAVES' NORTHERN SPORTS DESK COLUMNS BELOW
JANUARY 8TH, 2020
Hail and farewell to a giant among
Spartans; George Perles dead at 85
By KEITH GAVE
From the moment the doctor slapped him on the ass as a newborn until the very end, George Perles carried a giant chip on his shoulder. About the size of a football, actually.
Cantankerous, obdurate and as uncompromising as the streets that raised him in a city he genuinely personified, Perles seemed everything you could ask for in a football coach. Especially after three years of laughable Michigan State Spartan football under the kindly, but profoundly overmatched Muddy Waters.
Polarizing? Unquestionably. Outspoken? As an athlete, a coach, and later as a rock-ribbed politician of Democratic persuasion? Absolutely. And unapologetic, too.
He made Michigan State his home for 65 of his 85 years, until his death Tuesday night.
In the end, for most Michigan State fans, he was like a favorite uncle – life-loving, rotund, genial, soft- and kind-hearted. And still prone to speaking his mind, as he was wont to do during a 12-year run as a Michigan State following his election in 2006 until his resignation in November 2018, when Parkinson’s disease claimed him.
But I will forever remember him as the man who reversed the Spartans’ football fortunes after 10 mostly agonizing seasons since his former coach, Duffy Daugherty, retired. Curiously, Perles was passed over twice previously for the job; Michigan State has a checkered history when it comes to hiring football coaches.
From that moment, Perles and the Spartans were all about business. The winning business.
Perles vowed to lead the Spartans, coming off a 2-9 season in Waters’ final year, back to the respectability it had earned in Daugherty’s tenure.
“If we make all decisions based on winning the Rose Bowl,” Perles told the Detroit Free Press in late 1982, “we won't make a poor decision.”
Those were simpler times, when the Big Ten was truly the “Big Two” and eight other teams, when Bo Schembechler and Woody Hayes created the very best rivalry in all of college football for more than a generation.
That’s when Schembechler professed to anyone who would listen that his solitary priority was winning the conference championship and beating the best from the Pac-10 in the Rose Bowl.
The national title was out of his control, voted on by a bunch of media nerds who couldn’t carry a football in a bushel basket.
Then along comes Perles, and the Spartans broke up that little two-team monoply. He led them to two Big Ten titles and a victory over Southern Cal in the 1988 Rose Bowl.
His Spartans didn’t always win, but they were always, always hard to play against. Tough, physical, borderline mean – just like the guys he grew up with in that legendary old neighborhood around Vernor and Junction in Detroit’s west side.
Today, we can only remember, smile, and be grateful for the memories.
Pistons: A rebuild ahead?
With superstar Blake Griffin on the mend from another surgical procedure on his knee, and the NBA trade deadline just 29 days away, we can only imagine what might have been if the Pistons had, just once this season, a completely healthy roster.
It never happened. Griffin played in just 18 of Detroit’s 38 games to date this season, and he is doubtful to return before it’s over. Starting point guard Reggie Jackson has played in just two games. Shooting guard Luke Kennard has missed 10 games with various ailments, and former MVP Derrick Rose is on a minutes restriction, and has missed six games.
Now, with the playoffs in serious doubt, the Pistons look like serious sellers ahead of the Feb. 6 deadline. Sayonara to Andre Drummond, the best rebounder in the game who’s on an expiring contract and not likely to resign with the Pistons. Gone, too, most likely, is Rose, whose rejuvenated play has made him a serious trade chip. We could be seeing the last of Tony Snell and Langston Galloway, too, if the Pistons have their way.
Aside from Griffin, whose health and contract status make him an untradeable “asset,” we’re looking pretty much at a ground up rebuild, much like the Tigers and Red Wings have been going through for years now.
The good news is that the Pistons have some good young talent to build around, like rookie Sekou Doumbouya, Kennard, Snell (if they keep him) and Christian Wood. With the right pick in the right spot in the draft order this spring, a turnaround doesn’t have to take years as it does in the other sports.
Which is why it’s important the Pistons continue losing, as the Wings and Tigers have done so well in recent years.
And still standing. . .
With the recent firings of Pete Deboer in San Jose and Peter Laviolette in Nashville, Detroit’s Jeff Blashill is now the third-longest tenured coach in the NHL. Only Jon Cooper in Tampa and Paul Maurice in Winnipeg have served longer with their teams.
Blashill is in his fifth season after replacing Mike Babcock in the spring of 2015.
Interestingly, both DeBoer and Laviolette would be strong candidates to succeed Blashill behind the Wings’ bench – should GM Steve Yzerman decided to make a change after the season.
But Yzerman has proven himself to be an out-of-the-box thinker when it comes to acquiring players and hiring coaches. While in Tampa, Yzerman hired little-known minor-league coach Jon Cooper in 2009.