Perkins was born in Petal, Mississippi. He attended The University of Alabama, playing football 1964–1966. He played for the legendary coach Bear Bryant and was a teammate of Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath. The Crimson Tide won national championships in both 1964 and 1965, and Southeastern Conference championships in 1964, 1965, and 1966. During his senior year, he was named team captain. He was also selected as an All-American in 1966.1964: 11 catches for 139 yards and 1 TD.
1965: 19 catches for 279 yards and 1 TD.
1966: 33 catches for 490 yards and 7 TD.
He played for the National Football League's Baltimore Colts as a wide receiver from 1967 to 1971, under coach Don Shula. Perkins caught a 68-yard touchdown pass from Johnny Unitas in the 1970 AFC Championship Game to lead the Colts to a 27–17 victory over the Oakland Raiders and a berth in Super Bowl V.
Perkins coached in the NFL as an assistant for the New England Patriots (1974–1977) and San Diego Chargers (1978) before becoming head coach of the New York Giants from 1979 to 1982, helping to build the team that his successor, Bill Parcells, won two Super Bowls in 1986 and 1990. Perkins hired future NFL head coaches Parcells, Bill Belichick and Romeo Crennel as young assistants.
Perkins accepted the immeasurable task of succeeding Bear Bryant as the head coach at his alma mater, the University of Alabama, when Bryant retired. He coached the Crimson Tide for four years from 1983 to 1986, compiling a record of 32–15–1 and winning three bowl games, but went 5–6 in 1984, the school's first losing season since 1957, the year before Bryant's tenure began. He held the distinction of being the only head coach to lead Alabama to a victory over the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame for nearly thirty years. There was controversy from unsatisfied boosters and alumni at Alabama, and a lucrative contract offer from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led Perkins to leave Alabama for a second chance in the NFL after the 1986 Alabama season.
Perkins served as head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1987 to 1990. Some of his former college players got a chance to play for him in the NFL: QB Mike Shula, Kurt Jarvis, and linebacker Keith McCants. His career coaching record in the NFL was 42–75. He was fired midway through the 1990 season, and replaced by Richard Williamson. Williamson, like Perkins, was an Alabama alumnus. Perkins returned to college coaching at Arkansas State University in 1992. After just one year, Perkins became the offensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, serving under Bill Parcells from 1993 to 1996. He also spent 1997 with the Oakland Raiders as an offensive coordinator. On December 20, 2011, he was introduced as the new head football coach at Jones County Junior College (JCJC) in Ellisville, Mississippi. Perkins resigned from JCJC on December 24, 2013. He currently resides in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In 2014, he was said to be taking a volunteer coaching role with Oak Grove HS.
In 1992, former Alabama player Gene Jelks, who had been recruited by Perkins, publicly accused Alabama coaches and boosters of providing him with illegal cash payments and other inducements during his recruitment and years at Alabama (Jelks played from 1985 to 1989). Jelks's charges resulted in a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) investigation of the Alabama football program. Perkins's former assistant coach Jerry Pullen sued Jelks for slander, but he lost that case and two subsequent appeals, including an appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.SEC Player of the Year, 1966
First-Team All-American, Split end, 1966
Inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 1990
Inducted into the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, Class of 1998
He was elected to the Senior Bowl Hall of Fame in 2005
Ray Perkins's teammate on the 1970 Colts team was Bill Curry, who played center. Curry would replace Perkins as the head coach at Alabama.
Perkins coached Mike Shula at Alabama, and also for one season with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Shula was later hired as an assistant coach of the Buccaneers (1996–1999). Shula became a successor of Perkins's at Alabama as the head football coach there in 2003–2006.
Perkins was the first offensive coordinator for Don Coryell during Coryell's tenure with the San Diego Chargers. His replacement was Joe Gibbs.
Perkins has worked under six head coaches:Bob Tyler, Mississippi State (1973)
Chuck Fairbanks, New England Patriots (1974–1977)
Don Coryell, San Diego Chargers (1978)
Bill Parcells, New England Patriots (1993-1996)
Joe Bugel, Oakland Raiders (1997)
Chris Palmer, Cleveland Browns (1999-2000)