As of last fall, it appeared the resurrection of Ryan Mallett was in full force.
Mallett, the former Arkansas quarterback who during his two seasons with the Razorbacks re-wrote the program’s passing record book, began his first season as a high-school head football coach with a nail biting, come-from-behind win at Sheridan in late August of 2022.
Odds are, back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, that’s a statement and a job you would not have imagined being a possibility, never mind it becoming a reality.
Yet there he was. For a season, Mallett was the head man at White Hall High School just off I-530 in southeast Arkansas outside of Pine Bluff. White Hall has been a stalwart on the football field most of the last decade-plus and even years before that. The Bulldogs were winless in 2015, sure, but other than that has mostly cleaned up since 2011. The school has just two losing seasons in that span. In 2021, they fell to Pulaski Academy in the Class 5A state title game, which isn’t exactly something to sneeze at considering PA has won a championship every year but one since 2014.
Ryan Mallett’s Tumultuous Career
Mallett’s career as a player might have suggested his post-playing days would be as a coach. He was, first of all, the son of a football coach who developed into a prep superstar who then showcased one of the best arms in college football during his time at Michigan and Arkansas in the Bobby Petrino era. Such a big arm, in fact, the New England Patriots took him in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft. He earned eight starts in his five seasons in the professional ranks before calling it good in 2017. Talent was never a question.
The demeanor might have been. The rumor-mill was rampant during his time in Fayetteville. This author isn’t terribly interested in determining whether such rumors were true – or even acknowledging what they were. But among the U of A student base, Mallett was a legend for more than just his play on the football field. Missing practice because of oversleeping practically ruined his chances with the Houston Texans. An arrest for suspicion of DUI in 2019 halted a potential return to pro football when he was expected to play in the XFL. For a few months after that, Mallett left the public eye, other than an ill-fated attempt in an exhibition leaague in the spring of 2021.
A year before that, he had been hired at Mountain Home High School where he served as the MHHS offensive coordinator. A 4-8 record followed for the Bombers, who even won their first-round playoff game. Fast forward to February, 2022, and Mallett got his promotion to White Hall after former Bulldogs head coach Bobby Bolding resigned.
Pig Trail Nation released a nearly 20-minute long documentary-style feature about Mallett in his first season on the job at White Hall High School. In it, Mallet’s voice practically echoes with enthusiasm as he gives his teenaged players marching orders. He carries himself not like an ex-pro and Arkansas icon whose players should be lucky they have him, but like a man who has seen the mountain almost to its apex and is now giving back.
The video includes a group of White Hall dignitaries and residents sitting around a table at a restaurant. Sure, they were clearly given a prompt to discuss Mallett, but it’s not unlike what one would see at a coffee shop at 6 a.m. in any small town in America. One of the residents makes mention of something this column has hinted at so far.
“What I want folks to look at is the man he is today, not the boy he was yesterday,” David Beck said.
Ryan Mallett As a High School Coach
An admirable wish and one everyone hoped came to fruition. Mallett was one of the most successful former Hogs of the modern era at both the college and pro levels combined. Towns like White Hall, even awash as they are in tradition, could benefit from that star power. High school football players want to play in the NFL. Most of those who suit up for White Hall likely would also like to make it there after playing for the Razorbacks.
What Mallett started to do was show them a path. A graduate of Texas High in Texarkana, the 6-foot-6 slinger was obviously blessed with size and talent. He was the No. 5 recruit in the country the year he left Texas High for Michigan. In Ann Arbor, he was immediately thrust into the spotlight. Michigan had lost its season-opener that year to Appalachian State in what was then considered one of the biggest upsets in college football history. The next week, as a first-year collegian, he was tasked with replacing the injured Chad Henne, a dark horse Heisman Trophy contender entering the season.
It wasn’t to be for the Wolverines. Rich Rodriguez came in the next year and revamped the offense to one that would showcase a quarterback who was adept at running and throwing. That wasn’t a fit for Mallett and Arkansas, which had only underrated game-manager Casey Dick and was still reeling from the Mitch Mustain situation, was a prime landing spot. From there, it’s history. The Hogs went 8-5 then 10-3 in his two seasons on The Hill when one of Mallett’s main targets was Jarius Wright, the man who is now White Hall’s offensive coordinator and helped call the plays to help White Hall overcome a 17-6 deficit in its season opener and ultimately clinch a 27-24 win.
“Big win,” Mallett told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette afterward. “Glad we finished the game even when we were down at the half. We ran the ball pretty well. We have to be more efficient in the passing game.”
For Mallett, the ride since those glorious days of his youth had been circuitous. But hasn’t it for all of us? The fact is Mallett seemed to be a changed man in the last two or three years. Working with youths can do wonders for self-esteem and often helps folks find their place in the world, a place few might have imagined for them. If Mallett succeeded in raising hope and work ethic in his first football head coaching gig, then the ride would have been worth it, no matter how wild it was.
A previous version of the above originally published on August 27, 2022
UPDATE ON RYAN MALLETT
In that first season Mallett’s team finished with a record of 4-6 but the ride, sadly enough, is over. On Tuesday, June 27, news broke that Ryan Mallett had drowned while swimming in the Gulf of Mexico Tuesday afternoon in Destin, Florida.
“Deputies said a group of people in the water near the second sandbar had reportedly been struggling to make it back to shore,” CBS News reported. “A male, who officials identified as Mallett, went under and lifeguards said he was not breathing when he was pulled out.”
The 35-year-old was pronounced dead at the hospital.
“It is with great sadness that we share the loss of Coach Ryan Mallett,” a representative for the White Hall School District said. “Coach Mallett was a beloved coach and educator. We ask that you remember his family, team, students, fellow coaches, and the White Hall School District staff in your prayers.”
Watch Pig Trail Nation’s full feature here:
Hear Mallett talk about Sam Pittman starting at the 3:53 mark below:
More coverage of Arkansas football from BoAS…