For Nick Saban, Michigan State was his first opportunity to coordinate a defense at any level of football. That was back in the mid-eighties, with the legendary George Perles, he of the Steel Curtain in Pittsburgh, handing the reins on that side of the ball over to a then-32-year-old Saban.
Saban would eventually leave and ultimately return to MSU as head coach in 1995, replacing his former boss after Perles’ 12-year run at his alma mater ended with an 0-11 season.
Wednesday, MSU confirmed that Perles had passed away Tuesday at the age of 85 after a years-long battle with Parkinson’s.
In a statement, Saban mourned the passing of a man he, not surprisingly, considered a mentor.
George Perles meant a tremendous amount to not only me, but the entire Saban family. He was one of my mentors in this profession, and he gave me my first opportunity to be in a position of leadership as the defensive coordinator at Michigan State. George was always a great friend and someone who I turned to for advice on many occasions. I learned an incredible amount of both football and life from him over the years.
George did an outstanding job at Michigan State building that program. He was a great leader who impacted that transformation at Michigan State from the top down. Those five years at Michigan State, which culminated with a Rose Bowl victory at the end of the 1987 season, showed us the type of foundation necessary to build a program. We are so very close to his family, his wife Sally, and their children, Kathy, Terry, John and Pat, and they are in our thoughts and prayers. It is a sad day for the Sabans when it comes to losing one of our great mentors and the fantastic memories that we had with them.