by | Nov 3, 1994 | Detroit Free Press | 0 comments

Suspicion is not some faucet you turn on and off. If you’re looking for skeletons, you check every closet.

So when a disgruntled former Spartan named Roosevelt Wagner supposedly tells a newspaper he stalked his former coach, George Perles, and thought about killing him, and then, a few days later, he calls TV stations and says wait, he never said that, he said he wanted George and him “to go in a room with boxing gloves,” and the next day a radio guy plays him the original reporter’s tape, and he says “that’s not my voice,” well, where I come from — call us cynical — we wonder if we’re dealing with the world’s most stable individual.

Especially when we hear the rest of Wagner’s story, his claims that Michigan State football players were given money, cars, grades and pretty much

every other sham you could think of during his time there, 1989-1991. I talked with Wagner on Wednesday, and he detailed how “coaches told us not to go to class during big game weeks” and how “one coach caught us smoking marijuana the night before the Aloha Bowl, and we still played” and how Perles said ‘I’m gonna f— you” once he learned Wagner had signed with an agent.

This is serious stuff. This isn’t just Roosevelt doing his Robert DeNiro
“Taxi Driver” thing.

It should be said, however, before we hang Perles by his rather thick neck, that trusting a former player’s word can be risky. Especially when it’s one former player with a history of being a braggart and a dreamer, not to mention, according to inside sources at MSU, a drug and alcohol problem that got him sent to rehab (he denies this) plus an academic career that seemed to matter as much to him as synchronized swimming.

Yet based on this guy’s story — which keeps changing — the university is investigating its football program? Another inquiry

Well, yes. The fact is, most universities will investigate even the smallest accusation. It’s how they cover their butts. In this case, it might also be a way to dump the coach without having to hand him a million bucks.
“I was told (Perles) is out anyhow,” Wagner said. “The president’s office told me they wanted to clean house without burning down the house.”

Hey, I said be suspicious of everyone.

But just because a former player makes an accusation — especially one who dropped out to try the NFL, when he clearly didn’t have a chance — doesn’t make it true.

“I’m doing this for the good of the other players in the program,” Wagner said.

Right. And I’m Whitney Houston. A guy like Wagner, who allegedly cheated his agent out of big money, admitted involvement in drug deals, supposedly once took a car for a test drive from an East Lansing dealer and didn’t returned it until police came after it, and is currently calling talk shows from a New York Hotel that averages $225 a night — well, you had better be suspicious of whatever comes out of his mouth.

But, having said that, let me say this: What was a kid like this doing at MSU in the first place? And as a starting lineman? Don’t tell me he just
“went bad” late in his career, as Perles is telling people. Those kind of spots, a leopard doesn’t change.

And that is where Perles takes a black eye, maybe bad enough to finally get him ousted from his job. It’s never one problem kid in college football. Heck, even the holiest coach can be fooled by one problem kid. It’s the accumulation of problems and nasty rumors that makes smoke suggest a fire.

In Perles’ case, the ashes are ominous. From Wagner back through the years, they speak to the character of some kids he has recruited, and the weak way he has monitored their behavior once their parents put them in his trust:
* Blake Ezor’s drunk driving charge in 1987 and Andre Rison’s impaired driving charge in 1988 — and a later lawsuit against Rison by a bank that said he failed to repay $15,000.
* The whole Tony Mandarich deal in 1990, and the widespread steroid accusations.
* The 1991 charges that launched the book “Behind the Green Curtain,” suggesting certain MSU players were given money by the school or free use of a credit card by Charles Tucker, the Lansing agent now asking $100 million for Glenn Robinson.
* The assorted complaints against rowdy behavior by players at parties, sometimes requiring police intervention.
* Players living comfortably in subsidized housing owned by trustee Joel Ferguson — housing more appropriate for needy families.

Look, I’m not saying all of these are true.

I am saying it’s a pretty long list. Nothing rosy

Now, in fairness to Perles, MSU will investigate Wagner’s charges — 68 NCAA violations — and maybe it finds a bonfire, maybe it finds nothing. The previous probes came up light. That is how Perles has survived.

But there’s surviving, and there’s running an admirable program. Perles, like Pete Rose, might eventually walk away from East Lansing able to say “they never stuck nothing on me.”

That’s not the same as a positive image.

Honestly, I don’t know how much to believe of what Wagner is saying. And I

don’t know whether he stalked Perles or drove in circles.

What bothers me is the continued smoke that billows out of Perles’ regime. At some point, image becomes, if not everything, an important thing, for players, for recruits, for the whole institution. Right now, the image of this once proud program is being trashed by a guy who, as kooky as he might be, was given the right to wear the uniform by the very man at whom he’s pointing his finger.

Be suspicious.


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