NEW ORLEANS — Wait a minute. Am I missing something? Since when did George Perles become Mr. Desirable?

The way people are acting, you’d think Perles came complete with a winning lottery ticket. The New York Jets were prepared to make him a rich man, a head coach in the National Football League. For the life of me, I can’t figure why.

But that was nothing compared to Michigan State University. In a pitiful display of jockitis — the fear that losing football games will somehow affect one’s self-worth — MSU chose Tuesday night to hand over the reins of its entire athletic department, not just football, but basketball, baseball, swimming, Ping-Pong, in exchange for Big Daddy George agreeing not to leave us alone in the dark.

And he said, “Well . . . OK.”

Can you believe this? The Board of Trustees ignored the wishes of its president, John DiBiaggio, and effectively said, “The pen is mightier than the sword — but the whistle beats them all.”

And now Perles is his own boss, complete with desk, secretary and nearly free reign to conduct his football program any way he wants. Beautiful. If he asked for the English department, would they have thrown that in as well?

Why bother? George has but one favorite sentence these days: “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” He didn’t know what the Jets were offering. He didn’t know what his alma mater would decide. At least that’s what he said when we asked him.

But George knew what he was doing. Don’t be fooled. He pulled the old squeeze play as if he’d been raised in a dugout, instead of on the sidelines. Is it his cologne? Is it his witty conversation? It can’t be his college football record, which is a good-but-not-phenomenal 46-33-3. Why on earth did anybody feel held hostage by this man?

I can’t speak for the Jets. No. Wait. I can speak for the Jets. Here is what the Jets should be saying this morning: “Whew.” They could have been stuck with a coach who has never run a team in the NFL, would have been brutalized by the New York media, and has so far proven that on defense, he is a whiz, on offense, he is a . . . what?

MSU’s trustees are not so lucky.

They can only pray their decision won’t come back to haunt them. Jockeying for job Now before Perles boosters out there start deluging us with mail, let me ask you a question you should be asking yourselves: Why is it so important for him to be his own athletic director? The job stinks. At least for a football man. Ask Bo Schembechler. It’s a lot of paperwork and administrative detail and seeing your supposed power usurped by higher-ups (or have you forgotten Penn State being admitted into the Big Ten last month?).

Schembechler turned the job down twice before reluctantly agreeing to share the load with Jack Weidenbach. As soon as Bo retired the whistle, he walked away from the desk.

And yet Perles has been jockeying for this job since it became available when Doug Weaver retired. He masterfully played the Jets offer as the other woman, until MSU, in a fit of either jealousy, panic or a bit of both, caved in and made George AD. They say it’s for a “one-year trial.” Yeah. And I wrote Hamlet.

Now, unless Perles has a fondness for paper clips, the only reason he would want this job is power. Control.

If you ask me, you get a handful of moments in life where the naked spotlight is on you and your true character shows. Perles had such a moment a few years ago, sermonizing at the 1988 Rose Bowl how he was “a Spartan forever, I’ve got the best job in the world. . . . I bleed green and white. .
. . ” He then almost bolted to the Green Bay Packers to be their head coach. He parlayed that into a 10-year contract at Michigan State.

Another such moment came Monday. Perles did not hesitate to deal with the Jets, being only two years into his long contract, and he kept both parties on the edge until he was sure he had what he wanted in his pocket. Words ring hollow now I can’t say I trust George Perles any more. A few years ago, I was in love with the guy, I bought into his humble speeches about
“I’m just a former phys-ed teacher with the greatest job on earth.”

The words ring hollow now.

This is a fact: Any time you make a man his own boss, you are running a risk. And, no doubt, this is precisely why DiBiaggio did not want his football coach to be his athletic director — or “employer as employee” as he has put it. Forgive DiBiaggio. He foolishly thought that a university president should have some authority over elements of the school.

Why did they vote to give in to Perles’ power play? Who knows? Perhaps it was fear of being deserted, as happened with Darryl Rogers. Perhaps it was because recruiting is in high season. If you ask me, it was mostly a fear of losing.

You know what I say? Who cares? If that’s how you get there, by your coach holding you at gunpoint, by delivering the ransom, by turning control of all the other sports on campus over to a guy who has been a gridiron man all the way, then what do you stand for? What are you winning for?

MSU better pray that no scandals develop. It better pray that students will still think of their school as a university, not a sports factory. As for Perles, I don’t know what he has left to pray for. Personally, I wonder if

he’s stopped laughing yet.

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