EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Ray Perkins, whose tenure as head coach marked the beginning of a Giants revival after a bleak period in franchise history, passed away in Tuscaloosa, Ala. today, three days after his 79th birthday.
Perkins coached the Giants from 1979-82 and compiled a 23-34 regular-season record. In 1981, he led the team to its first postseason berth since 1963. That Giants team upset defending NFC champion Philadelphia in the NFC Wild Card Game before losing in the divisional round to a San Francisco 49ers team that went on to win Super Bowl XVI.
The Giants were 74-134-4 in the 15 seasons before Perkins, then the offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers, was brought in to lead a franchise overhaul. Perkins instilled discipline, worked with general manager George Young to upgrade the roster and brought two of the most successful coaches in NFL history to the Giants.
"Ray was George Young's first hire as general manager in 1979," said John Mara, the Giants' president and chief executive officer. "I remember George saying, 'He will make it very uncomfortable for our players to lose.' Ray did a good job for us and got us into the playoffs in 1981 for the first time in many years. During the 1982 season, which was shortened due to a players strike, he announced he was leaving at the end of the year to go to Alabama, which he described as his dream job. He left behind a team that had Lawrence Taylor, Phil Simms and Harry Carson, among others and this was the nucleus of the group that would go on to great success in the 1980's and win two Super Bowls. I always wondered whether he later regretted that decision. But he certainly left our team in much better shape than he found it in, including having Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick on his staff."
Perkins coached the Giants from 1979-82. In 1981, he led the team to its first postseason berth since 1963. That Giants team upset defending NFC champion Philadelphia in the NFC Wild Card Game before losing in the divisional round to a San Francisco 49ers team that went on to win Super Bowl XVI.
Perkins had been a star wide receiver at Alabama and returned to his alma mater to replace legendary Hall of Fame coach Paul "Bear" Bryant. But Perkins had built the foundation for future success. He was replaced by Parcells, the defensive coordinator he had hired, who led the Giants to five postseason berths, two NFC East titles and two Super Bowl victories in his eight seasons as coach.
"I loved Ray and he was a very close friend of mine," Parcells said today. "I was very saddened by the news. He's the only reason I was in pro football; he's the one who brought me into the league. He was my friend. I worked for him at the Giants and then he worked for me at the Patriots. He was a great guy."
Perkins' family did not announce a cause of death.
Giants coach Joe Judge paid tribute to Perkins today on his Zoom call with reporters.
"I'll start out offering our thoughts and prayers to coach Perkins' family," said Judge, who attended college in Perkins' native Mississippi and was an assistant at Alabama from 2009-11. "Coach was a guy who touched a lot of lives in the National Football League as well as college football. There are a lot of relationships around this country with him. Personally, I've had some crossover with coach through his time coming through Tuscaloosa when I was down there, as well as some contact early in my tenure here. But I appreciate everything he did for me, the time he shared with me, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.
Judge was born on Dec. 31, 1981 – four days after Perkins led the Giants to their first postseason victory since a 1958 Eastern Conference Playoff Game vs. Cleveland. But he is familiar with Perkins' Giants legacy.
"I've had a lot of conversations with both coaches who have worked under him as well as coaches to come after him, both here and down in Tuscaloosa," Judge said. "Actually, the first time I met coach Perkins, I was working at Southern Miss. for a spring and he was at a junior college down the road. He came up and watched us practice one day and we just spent some time talking. I had just come from Alabama, he had been at Alabama obviously through his time. We shared some stories about Tuscaloosa. But he spent a lot of time with me that day talking about being a young coach and really working with players and developing the players. That was the biggest thing that he really shared with me, and that's a message that's been echoed to me by a lot of people I've been around that have been very successful. The development of the players is what he really hammered me with, and that really came after a spring practice and watching a lot of young guys out there trying to plug guys around and find the right spot for them. He was just sharing some wisdom along, 'Hey listen, give everybody an opportunity to improve and don't make your mind up too early from what you think someone can do.'"
Perkins went 32-15-1 and won three bowl games during his four years as the coach of the Crimson Tide. He left Alabama following the 1986 season to become the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. He was 19-41 in three-plus seasons before being released after 13 games in 1990 – the season in which the Giants won their second Super Bowl.
Perkins was the head coach at Arkansas State in 1992 before returning to the NFL as Parcells' offensive coordinator with the Patriots from 1993-96. He was the Oakland Raiders' offensive coordinator in 1997 and the Cleveland Browns' tight ends and then running backs coach in 1999-2000.
Twelve years after leaving Cleveland, Perkins resurfaced in 2012 at Jones County Junior College in Mississippi, where he was 15-5 in two seasons as head coach. His final coaching stint was as a volunteer assistant in 2014 at Oak Grove (Miss.) High School in Hattiesburg, not far from his hometown of Petal.
Perkins starred at Mount Olive High School before becoming a wide receiver at Alabama with Hall of Fame quarterbacks Joe Namath and Ken Stabler. In three seasons (1964-66), Perkins caught 66 passes for 908 yards and nine touchdowns for teams that compiled a 30-2-1 record and won three Southeastern Conference titles and two national championships. As a senior, he was team captain, SEC Player of the Year, and All-American. Perkins played in two Orange Bowls and one Sugar Bowl, winning all three.
Perkins was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.
Perkins was the final selection in the seventh round of the 20-round 1966 NFL Draft (which, unlike now, was held on Nov. 27) by the Baltimore Colts. In five seasons with the team he played in 58 games and caught 93 passes for 1,538 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Perkins earned a Super Bowl ring when the Colts defeated the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V. He helped them advance to the game by catching a 68-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 27-17 AFC Championship Game over the Oakland Raiders.
Perkins began his coaching career as an assistant in 1973 at Mississippi State, Judge's alma mater. He was the Patriots' wide receivers coach from 1974-78 before spending one season in San Diego.
Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.