Replacing a legend is never easy. Just ask Phil Bengtson, who tallied a 20-21-1 record in three seasons in Green Bay after replacing the legendary Vince Lombardi.
Ray Perkins faced the difficult task of immediately following Bear Bryant as Alabama head coach. During his four seasons in Tuscaloosa, he was always in the shadow of Bryant and often had a hard time pleasing the fan base.
Perkins was no stranger to the Alabama program when he was named head coach in 1982. As a player, Perkins was an All-American wide receiver for the Crimson Tide in 1966. He also led Alabama to a pair of national championships in 1965 and 1966. He then played five years in the NFL for Baltimore and helped lead the Colts to a victory over Dallas in Super Bowl V.
After retiring from the NFL, Perkins immediately went into coaching. He was an assistant coach for one season at Mississippi State before returning to the NFL.
After stints as an assistant for New England and San Diego, Perkins was named head coach of the New York Giants in 1979. Two years later in 1981, he led the Giants to their first playoff appearance since 1963. During the 1982 season, Bryant announced his retirement at the end of the season. Throughout the year, Perkins was rumored as one of his successors and on Dec. 15, 1982, he resigned as Giants head coach to return to Alabama.
It was a difficult offseason for the University of Alabama community. Not only did Bryant resign, but on Jan. 26, 1983, he suffered a heart attack and died at the age of 69.
For Perkins, the 1983 season was a successful campaign. The Crimson Tide started 4-0 and finished the regular season with a 7-4 record. All four losses were by no more than seven points. For the first time in school history, Alabama traveled to El Paso, Texas to face No. 6 SMU in the Sun Bowl. The Crimson Tide led 28-0 at halftime en route to a 28-7 upset victory and an 8-4 record in Perkins first season.
Perkins's first squad performed well in Alabama's first season without Bryant since 1957. However, he quickly began to face criticism in his second year in 1984.
Alabama started the season ranked ninth in the nation, but the Crimson Tide lost five of their first six games. No loss was more demoralizing than a 30-21 loss to Vanderbilt on Homecoming. Perkins and his squad was booed off the field as Alabama lost their first Homecoming game in 27 years. Crimson Tide faithful began talking about Perkins' inexperience as a college coach. They also believed he had an inability to relate to college athletes after several years as an NFL assistant and head coach.
After the Vanderbilt debacle, Alabama lost to Georgia, 24-14, before picking up a much-needed 6-0 win over visiting Penn State. By the time the Crimson Tide faced Auburn in the annual Iron Bowl, Alabama was guaranteed their first losing season since 1957. A 17-15 win over the Tigers could not erase the Crimson Tide fans' disappointment of Alabama's 5-6 record and their streak of 25 consecutive bowl appearances coming to an end. At the same time, an unflattering nickname "Perk the Jerk" referred to the Alabama head coach.
Some Alabama fans and the media believed Perkins needed a great season in 1985 to save his job. If he won, people would forget about 1984 and all would be forgiven. Perkins' players responded by winning their first four games, including Al Bell's touchdown reception with 15 seconds remaining to defeat Georgia, 20-16, in the season opener.
A pair of mid-season losses to nationally ranked Penn State and Tennessee proved to be the only setbacks for Perkins and the Crimson Tide. Alabama entered the Iron Bowl against No. 7 Auburn with four wins in their last five games and a 14-14 tie at No. 15 LSU. In one of the best Iron Bowl games in history, Van Tiffin's 52-yard field goal as time expired gave Alabama a 25-23 upset win. It was their second straight upset victory over the Tigers.
Looking to improve their win total by four games from the previous season, No. 15 Alabama and USC were tied, 3-3 in the Aloha Bowl. The Crimson Tide pulled away with 21 unanswered second half points to win, 24-3, and finished the season 9-2-1.
One season after some Alabama fans began calling him "Perk the Jerk, " Perkins received a three-year contract extension following the 1985 season.
Coming off the rebound season, Perkins had high expectations for the 1986 campaign. Starting the season fifth in the nation, Alabama did not disappoint their head coach as the Crimson Tide reeled off seven straight wins. Highlights of the streak included Alabama's first win over Notre Dame and a 56-28 rout at Tennessee.
The excitement of a 7-0 start and a No. 2 ranking was dampened somewhat by a 2-3 mark to finish the regular season. Perhaps the most agonizing loss was a 21-17 defeat to Auburn, a game in which Alabama blew a 14-point fourth quarter lead.
After struggling down the stretch, No. 13 Alabama faced No. 12 Washington in the Sun Bowl. Leading 7-6 at halftime, the Crimson Tide scored 21 unanswered second half points en route to a 28-6 triumph. Perkins improved to 3-0 in bowl games, while Alabama only allowed 16 points in those three wins.
Despite Perkins 32-15-1 record and three bowl appearances in four seasons, it was not good enough to satisfy the Crimson Tide faithful and boosters. Playing in the Sun Bowl and Aloha Bowl were nice, but this was a program accustomed to New Year's Day bowls and national championships.
Perhaps Perkins believed he would never win over some Alabama fans and boosters. Following the 1986 season and with two years remaining on his contract, Perkins left Alabama and signed a five year deal worth $750,000 to become head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Perkins was fired after three-and-a-half tumultuous seasons in Tampa Bay. He returned to the collegiate level in 1992 as head coach at Arkansas State but only lasted one season.
In 1993, Perkins returned to the NFL as offensive coordinator for New England. Ironically, the Patriots head coach was Bill Parcells, the man who replaced Perkins as head coach in New York and led the Giants to a pair of Super Bowl victories. After four seasons in New England, Perkins finished his career as an assistant coach with Oakland and Cleveland.
Perkins has been inducted into three halls of fame. In 1990, he entered the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. A native of Petal, Miss., Perkins was inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame in 1998.
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