An interview with Ray Perkins - Part Two
The practice appeared to pay off as the Bucs overwhelmed the Atlanta Falcons 48-10 in the season opener. But just as quickly as the Bucs started, the season came to a screeching halt before Week 3 when the NFL Players Association walked out on strike and Perkins was left to coach a collection of replacement players.
“Not fun,” Perkins said bluntly when asked what it was like to go from coaching his players to a team of replacements. “I’m not sure I can explain what it was like. It wasn’t a lot of fun I can tell you that.”
“I resented it,” he said. “I look at the NFL, I look at college, I look at the game of football as a great, great opportunity for any young man. I know that it is a livelihood of a lot of people when you get to the pros. I understand that and have an appreciation for that too. But to go on strike? This happened to me in New York as well. I resented the players for actually going on strike because this is their game, this is our game, this is the fans game. I took it kind of personal.”
While he may have been angry, Perkins arguably did the best coaching of his Buccaneer career while the B-Bucs were on the field. The replacement team went 2-1 and had Tampa Bay in position for first place in the NFC Central when the strike ended.
When asked what the secret was to performing so well when many other franchises flopped during replacement ball, Perkins verbally shrugged and commented it was just his job.
“What else could we do?” Perkins asked rhetorically. “We didn’t have a choice, we had games on the schedule. So we got whatever players that we can gather up and put on the field. Let’s work at it and practice and prepare and try to win the games we got. That’s our job. That’s our job as coaches and our jobs as players.”
When the regular players did come back they showed an alarming inability to keep a lead. In the first game back, the Bucs squandered a 20 point lead in a 27-26 loss to Chicago. The next week, Tampa Bay nearly blew another 20 point lead, hanging on for a narrow 23-17 victory at Green Bay.
Then came the infamous 4th quarter collapse against St. Louis. Leading 28-3 heading into the final stanza, the Bucs lead evaporated and they headed home with a 31-28 defeat. That game led to the standard joke: “What is a Buc Worth?” The answer: “Three Quarters.”
An inability to hold a lead would mark almost all of Perkins’ Buccaneer teams. Many argue that the Bucs constantly fielded young teams during his tenure as a way to keep personnel costs down and that led to a lack of continuity. When that subject was broached with Perkins, he quickly and bluntly laid it to rest.
“I don’t want to chalk anything up to anything except I didn’t get the job done,” Perkins said matter of factly. “I’m not blaming anybody. We had a lot of good players. Am I saying we had enough good players? Probably not, but we had a lot of good players and we had a lot of good players that gave everything they had and were dedicated people. We had some really great coaches in my mind. I just didn’t get the job done. Period.”
Following records of 4-11 and 5-11 in 1987 and 1988 respectively, the Bucs burst out of the gates in 1989 defeating Green Bay, New Orleans and Chicago while narrowly missing out on a defeat of the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers. The early season promise once again petered out with frustrating come-from-ahead losses to Detroit, Washington and Green Bay. In 1990 it was a sickening case of deja-vu as the Bucs started off 3-2 and then collapsed against Dallas. That Cowboy loss totally deflated the team and its fan base.
Before a Week 13 match-up with the Atlanta Falcons, Buccaneer fans staged a mass walk-out as a way to get the point across to Hugh Culverhouse that the time had come to “Jerk the Perk,” as many signs in Tampa Stadium read. Despite the Bucs 23-17 victory on Sunday, Perkins was indeed dismissed Monday.
However, according to Perkins he wasn’t fired because of the fan protest. The former coach says he was terminated because of a refusal to make scapegoats out of his assistants. “He gave me the ultimatum of firing four coaches or I would be fired,” Perkins said. The coach disagreed, refused to fire his assistants and in turn was dismissed.
Given the manner in which he left Tampa Bay, one would believe Perkins would be justified to be bitter about his Tampa experience but the ex-coach says nothing could be further from the truth. When it comes to Mr. Culverhouse, Ray Perkins remains a fan of his, although he candidly admits the owners should have stayed out of football decisions. “He was a great man. I really liked him a lot. He was a really fine businessman, but a football man he was not.”
As for the fans of Tampa Bay, Perkins holds no grudge over the public protest against his continued employment. “I appreciated the great opportunity that Hugh Culverhouse gave me with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. I have nothing but fond memories of the city of Tampa and living there. My only regret is that I didn’t do a better job then what I did. I was the guy that was hired to do the job and I didn’t get the job done. Period.”
“I’ve always believed deep down in my heart that it is not us as coaches and it is not us as players that make the game, but rather the fan,” Perkins said. “If it weren’t for the fans there would be no league. There would be no coaches, there would be no players. So I have a great deal of respect for the people that follow our great game of football and spend so many thousands and thousands of dollars in doing so. I have a great appreciation of the fans.”
After leaving Tampa Bay, Perkins was briefly the head coach at Arkansas State before hooking up with a former protégé. Perkins had helped Bill Parcells land his first NFL job with New England before hiring him as his Giants defensive coach. When Perkins left for Bama, Parcells succeeded him as Giants coach and has never looked back.
“He was a great coach, a great coordinator and I have nothing but a great deal of respect for him and he is a great friend today.” Perkins said of Parcells who hired his former mentor as offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots.
The combo of Parcells and Perkins helped the Patriots end their sad sack ways and culminated in an appearance in Super Bowl XXXI against Green Bay. When Parcells retired, Perkins moved on to the Oakland Raiders and Cleveland Browns before ultimately hanging up the coaching whistle for good.
Perkins still follows the game in Mississippi, but admits he is not much of a fan. “I have always said that I would not be a very good fan,” he continued. “I said when I quit coaching I would not be a very good fan and you know what? I’m not. Even now after being retired, I have a greater appreciation for fans then I had before that. The game did so much for me and my life that it was my life.”
But now, football, including his time in Tampa Bay, is just something Perkins did and is no longer who he is.
Denis Crawford, February 2010