Former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who went on to have a seven-year career in the NFL, died Tuesday in an apparent drowning at a Florida beach, according to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office. He was 35.
The sheriff’s office said first responders were called to a beach in Destin, Florida, around 2:12 p.m. local time, as a group of people swimming in the Gulf of Mexico near a sandbar struggled to make their way back to shore. One of the individuals, later identified as Mallett, was not breathing when he was pulled out of the water and was transported to a local hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
“It is with great sadness that we share the loss of Coach Ryan Mallett,” White Hall, the Arkansas school district where Mallett coached high school football, wrote in a post on its website. “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.”
Mallett played for the University of Michigan for one season before transferring to Arkansas, where he passed for 7,493 yards and 62 touchdowns in two seasons. As a redshirt sophomore in 2009 under coach Bobby Petrino, he led the Razorbacks to an 8-5 record and win in the Liberty Bowl, for which he earned Offensive MVP honors.
His best season came in 2010, when he threw for 3,869 yards, 32 touchdowns and 12 interceptions with a 64.7 completion percentage, earning second-team All-SEC honors for a second straight year. He finished seventh in voting for the 2010 Heisman Trophy.
“We are shocked and saddened by the passing of Ryan Mallett,” the Arkansas football program said in a statement posted to Twitter. “He was a Razorback legend with larger-than-life talent and a personality to match. He led our program to some of our best moments in recent memory. He will be missed by everyone who knew him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his mother Debbie and his extended family.”
The New England Patriots selected Mallett in the third round of the 2011 NFL draft, at No. 74 overall. Coach Bill Belichick explained at the time that the team could never have enough depth at quarterback, which led to it selecting Mallett as one of Tom Brady’s backups.
“We just felt like he was a good player,” Belichick said at the time. “He’s won everywhere he’s been — high school, college. He’s an impressive guy to talk to.”
Belichick detailed how the Patriots had followed Mallett’s college career, starting at Michigan in 2007, and then when he transferred to Arkansas as a result of a new Wolverines coaching staff installing a different offense. At Arkansas, Belichick noted how Mallett effectively operated in a pro-style offense under Petrino, saying in 2011: “He’s pretty far along relative to some other quarterbacks we’ve seen.”
In a statement Tuesday, Belichick said he was “extremely saddened by Ryan’s tragic passing” and offered his thoughts and prayers to Mallett’s family “and the many people whose lives he touched.”
Brady, in a social media post, wrote: “We lost a great man. Thank you for everything Ryan.”
Mallett played just 24 snaps as a backup to Brady in New England, a result of Brady’s durability and seldom coming out of games. He was traded to the Houston Texans ahead of the 2014 season, where he played nine games, making six starts, over parts of two seasons with the team before he was released in October 2015. He subsequently signed with the Baltimore Ravens, for whom he made two starts in eight appearances through 2017.
“Ryan was a part of us,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said in a Twitter post by the team. “I will always remember the love he had for his teammates and for making the most of, and enjoying every football day while here.”
In his first start on Nov. 16, 2014, Mallett directed Houston to a 23-7 victory at Cleveland. His first career TD pass was a 2-yarder to defensive end J.J. Watt.
“Horrible news to read about Ryan Mallett,” Watt wrote in a tweet. “Gone way too soon. Rest in Peace brother.”
Mallett appeared in 21 NFL games for his career, making eight starts. He completed 190 of his 345 attempts in the NFL for 1,835 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions.
In 2022, Mallett was hired as the head football coach at White Hall High School in his native Arkansas after beginning his coaching career as an assistant at Mountain Home High School.
“I always knew I was going to coach,” Mallett said after he was named the coach at White Hall, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “It’s just natural for me. I understand it. I get how everything works, and then I just love football. You get to teach kids the right way at a young age, and that’s something I really enjoy.”
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