TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (WIAT) — Ray Perkins, a former Alabama football player who gained national recognition to be the first coach to lead the Crimson Tide after the death of Paul “Bear” Bryant in 1983, has died. He was 79 years old.

Perkins’ family confirmed news of his death to CBS 42 Wednesday morning.

A Mississippi native, Perkins played for the University of Alabama from 1964 to 1966 as a wide receiver, going on to play for the then Baltimore Colts. In 1971, he made the transition from player to coach, starting as an assistant at Mississippi State and then having assistant coaching stints in the NFL. From 1979 to 1982, Perkins was the head coach of the New York Giants.

However, it would not be until 1983 when Perkins would take on his greatest professional challenge up to that point: succeeding Paul “Bear” Bryant as the new head coach at Alabama, just a couple of months after Bryant’s death.

“I had always wanted to be the person that followed him,” Perkins told The Tuscaloosa News in 2018. “It wasn’t so much the job I wanted, but following the man that was in charge of the job.”

In fact, Bryant had had an impact on Perkins years before, not just as a coach but as a friend. It was Bryant who encouraged his players to invest and buy land. Taking his advice, Perkins used some of the money from his Colts signing bonus to purchase acreage in Tuscaloosa County’s Samantha community, which he continued to own until he died.

Between 1983 and 1986, Perkins led the Tide to a 32–15–1 record and three bowl wins. In 1987, Perkins returned to the NFL to be the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, leaving in 1990. After years of assistant coaching jobs with different college and professional teams, he retired in 2014.

“Ray Perkins was a great friend and an outstanding football coach who served The University of Alabama with true class and integrity,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said in a statement. “Coach Perkins was a great leader who had a tremendous impact on the game of football at all levels. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his wife, Lisa, and his children Tony, Mike, Rachael and Shelby.”