/Ray Perkins was known as ‘Grease’ in Petal before he became a national football celebrity

Ray Perkins was known as ‘Grease’ in Petal before he became a national football celebrity

One could start with the fact Perkins was an NFL coach and hired Bill Parcells, and both of those football geniuses consider Perkins a mentor. You could also start with the fact Perkins was a star player for Don Shula and Bear Bryant. Bryant called Perkins “the best offensive player” on the Alabama national championship teams. Bryant stated that Perkins would have been the best defensive player if we had placed him there. You could also start by mentioning that he was able to catch passes from Joe Namath in college and Snake Stabler in pro sports. He drafted and coached Lawrence Taylor, the New York Giants’ great pitcher. Perkins was famously the one to go to North Carolina to see Taylor. After a while, Taylor asked Perkins if he wanted to see Taylor work out. Perkins replied that it would be a waste both of their time and mine. “I’ve seen enough.” We could also go back to where Perkins started it all, at Petal High School or the nearby service station. Perkins was a carpenter’s child and opened the Sinclair gas station every morning before he left for school. Marcus James, the owner of Sinclair, also had Perkins work during his lunch break. He would then close the station when he had finished playing whatever sport he was participating in late afternoons or early evenings. Perkins once said to me that he gave the keys of the station to me at 14 years old. “Here I am, just a child, and he was trusting in me with his livelihood. He taught me work ethic and responsibility. I was able to purchase my first car, a 1955 Ford Fairlane. Perkins could disassemble a car engine and put it back together. Mr. James signed the note. The same goes for transmissions. One problem: His clothes were stained with oil and grease when he went to school. This led to the nickname “Grease” for Mike Garren. Garren now lives in Pearl. Garren stated that Garren was a gifted athlete but still worked hard. He could run around you but Ray would almost always run straight over you. He was so strong.” Bryant sent Dude Hennessey (his trusted lieutenant), over to look for a strong, muscular back from Lumberton, who everyone in the South was looking for. Lumberton was playing Petal that night. Hennessey returned to Bear and presented his report. Perkins was signed instead. Bear also didn’t regret signing Perkins. Alabama was 30-2 for Perkins’ three varsity season. It is also worth noting that Bryant retired at Bama years ago and Perkins succeeded him. Talk about filling big boots – can you even imagine? Someone had to be that guy. Perkins went 32-14 during his four-year tenure as Alabama’s head coach. This was in between his stints as the head coach at Alabama and the Tampa Bay Bucs. Perkins and I have crossed paths many times throughout our careers. When he was an assistant coach at Mississippi State (1983-86), and later as the offensive coordinator for the New England Patriots in 1996, I covered him. He was a non-nonsense and often taciturn coach that I had known back then. Later, I came to know him better. Perkins had just retired and was now living on the Hattiesburg Country Club’s fifth tee. After playing some golf together, I was informed by Perkins that he was volunteering at Presbyterian Christian Hattiesburg as a junior high coach. To check it out, I drove to Hattiesburg. Perkins was a former player and coach in Super Bowls and was teaching the 13-year-olds how to defend. He was a former coach for Phil Simms and Lawrence Taylor, but now he is coaching children who don’t shave. I asked him why. Perkins responded, “If I wasn’t doing this I would probably be on the course or doing some other thing that didn’t add up to anything.” “If I can spend a few hours each day to help these children’s lives, why shouldn’t I?” I thought. These kids don’t know who this old man is or what he’s accomplished. Perkins laughed when he heard that. He said, “It’s just so well.” I think they get just as much from it as I do. It’s a great experience to work with boys and watch them succeed at it. These kids are great. Perkins was in his 70s at the time and retired to coach Jones Junior College for a few seasons. Here was another guy who had coached at the top levels in packed stadiums, on national television, and now he coaches before hundreds. Jones finished 14-5 in those two seasons. He shared the Mississippi Juco South Division title the first year and won it the second. Perkins seemed to have more fun as a coach with the New York Giants than he did when he was there. When we met in his humble, small office after the game, I informed Perkins that it was more fun. Perkins replied, “This is more enjoyable, more fun, and more rewarding.” This is because of these children. It’s because they are growing.” You could see he meant it. He said that he would die right here in the office, coaching football and drawing plays.