Hawgs Illustrated

Ryan Mallett threw for 7,493 yards and 62 touchdowns during his two years at Arkansas.

EX-HOGS QUARTERBACK RYAN MALLETT FINDING HIS NICHE AS HEAD COACH Paul Petrino sat with a reporter following the spring of 2008 at Arkansas. The conversation was close to two hours long. The new offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach detailed the e

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I pushed back from the table in front of his desk in the Broyles Center with a thorough understanding of what the new offense would be like in year one of the Bobby Petrino era.

Then, with a twinkle in his eyes, Petrino said, “Would you like to talk about what it’s going to be like in year two with Ryan Mallett at quarterback?”

I had not thought to ask about the transfer from Michigan. Mallett would have to redshirt for the 2008 season while brothers Casey and Nathan Dick quarterbacked the UA offense.

Wonderful, I said. I got out my notebook and plopped back into my chair. I knew this was going to be good.

“Ryan Mallett will re-write every Arkansas passing record,” Petrino said. “He has the best arm I’ve ever seen. He can make throws we’ve never tried. We will run deep outs – real deep outs. We will cut up the safeties in deep seams. He is an amazing arm talent. Zone (defensive schemes) will not have a chance.

“With Ryan Mallett, we will re-write all of the passing records here. All of them.”

There were glimpses of that in the spring as Mallett got to throw in certain situations. No one at practice questioned that he was a special talent, but to hear a veteran coach speak on his potential was fascinating stuff.

There was one thing out of that discussion that did not come true. The Petrino brothers were used to seeing lots of zone coverages in their previous stops. They had lots of special zone beater plays. Arkansas fans saw that on the other side last year when Missouri State destroyed the Hogs deployed in zone coverages.

The SEC is not a zone league. It’s almost entirely man-to-man because of elite cornerback play. Mallett saw man coverage, but with great wide receiver talent, he burned that, too.

When Mallett became eligible in 2010, he did exactly as Paul Petrino predicted. In just two seasons before passing on his senior year for the NFL draft, Mallett threw for 62 touchdowns. He threw for 30 in 2009 to break Clint Stoerner’s record of 26, then beat it again with 32 in 2010. Brandon Allen got to 30 in 2015.

It was a glorious time in Arkansas football and it all started with that amazing arm talent of Mallett. It was what I wanted to discuss this spring as Mallett puts the White Hall Bulldogs through spring practice in year two as a high school head coach.

“It was a lot of fun,” Mallett said. “But the records and games are not what I think about most. It’s relationships.

“That’s what you remember, the coaches, the teammates and everyone around the program.

“We had a special group of players. We had a lot of NFL talent. I remember how quality they were as people, hanging out together. Guys like Travis Swanson, Jarius Wright and all of the rest.

“We had something special. There was nothing ‘me’ about our team. We were not individuals, just one team. That’s why we won so many games.”

Mallett was one of six captains in the 2009 season, an 8-5 finish with an overtime victory over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl. He was one of six captains on the 2010 team that went 10-3 on the way to the Sugar Bowl. Ohio State held off a UA rally for a 31-26 victory.

“I’ve played on a lot of teams,” Mallett said. “Usually, the receivers are telling you, ‘Give me the ball.’ I never heard that in my time at Arkansas. I’m sure they did want the ball. But they knew it was coming to them if they were open. So we didn’t have that ‘give me the ball stuff’ at Arkansas.”

Mallett was a third round pick of the New England Patriots. He played behind Tom Brady for three seasons. He played parts of eight seasons in the NFL, two with the Houston Texans and three with the Baltimore Ravens.

There is NFL jerseys and Razorback memorabilia adorning the walls of his office at White Hall High School. It rarely comes up with his players.

“If they ask questions about my playing days, it’s usually because they are trying to distract me and get out of something,” Mallett said. “Like when we are lifting or conditioning, they ask something.

“It’s pretty funny. I know what’s up. They want to get out of work. Listen, they can’t pull that on me. I was the master of coming up with something to get out of stuff. I always had an excuse to get out of class.

“But really, they have no idea what I might have done as a player at Arkansas or

in the NFL. They were not even in grade school then. They are still just kids really, not focused on much of anything.”

And, Mallett is their mentor. He is focused. It’s interesting when you talk to town leaders in tiny White Hall. They are proud of Mallett. Soon after he became coach – leaving as Mountain Home’s offensive coordinator – reporters came to town from Little Rock for TV features. The common refrain, “We are proud of the man we got in Ryan Mallett. He’s not the boy we once heard about.”

Mallett’s response is crystal clear.

“I hope I’m a man now,” he said. “I’m 35. That’s halfway to 70.

“I did a lot of things as a kid. I know how to conduct my business now.

“My job is to help shape and mold young people. This is the time a lot of them are finding out about themselves. I hope I can help them.”

Mallett was ready to help when it was obvious college recruiters might be interested in some of his players.

“I took some to Fayetteville for the spring game,” he said. “No way they could have gone otherwise. I wanted them to get that experience of what (the spring game at Arkansas) was like.

“I enjoyed doing that, taking a player that had no ride up. I want to be there for them. These are my kids, 365 days out of the year.”

It was also fun for Mallett to return as a high school head coach. There must be pride in that experience. He always knew he was born to be a coach, not a player.

“Everyone in my family – my dad and his brothers – go by Coach,” he said. “Coach Mallett, that’s all I’ve ever heard. I was going to be a coach.

“I started going to practices as a toddler. My earliest memory of a practice was going to one of my dad’s practices and I climbed on the blocking rack and got my head stuck. I was hanging from my head and they had to pull me out.”

White Hall is a competitive program with high hopes under Mallett. The Bulldogs went 4-7 in his first season, but lost three times by one score. We should have won seven.

“We had a lot of inexperience, plus we were in a new system,” Mallett said. “We returned only two starters. This year, we’ve got almost everybody back. We have experience at quarterback and starting experience at every position but two. We have a really good chance to be better.

“We’ve got twice as many players out for football as we finished the season. We have quite a few coming out that just played basketball. We’ve added a 6-3 receiver and another who is 6-1.

“We’ve got really good speed. We lack a little height some places, but I like speed.”

Mallett wants to be multiple on both sides of the ball. He has seen every style of football and understands offense and defense.

“I learned offense from Coach Petrino,” he said. “I learned defense from Coach (Bill) Belicheck (at New England). I had good leadership at Mountain Home the last few years. I learned about the importance of community and how to talk to parents. I learned to explain their child’s talents. You have to explain they might not be a DI athlete. They all believe they are.”

The Xs and Os are Mallett’s strength. Playing for Bobby Petrino was a blessing, but his NFL days brought knowledge, too.

“Where I learned defense was in our film sessions with Coach Belicheck,” he said. “We had this session where we went over negative plays and why. He showed us every aspect of what the defense was doing on tape. He’s the best.

“Those film sessions, he talked in that monotone, exactly like you hear him in media conferences. I think being in those meeting rooms with both (Petrino and Belicheck) gives me a leg up on a lot of coaches.”

Mallett’s football IQ has always been off the charts.

“One thing I knew how to do – and I learned it from my dad watching tape – was to avoid getting hit,” Mallett said. “It wasn’t because I was the quickest. You do that by understanding slides and protections. I just never got hit. I always saw other (quarterbacks) get hit and didn’t understand why.

“My pocket was always clean. I always have known Xs and Os.

“I will say this, I had a great offensive

line at Arkansas. We had everything to run a great offense. We could run the ball.”

Mallett is especially proud of the way the Hogs ran the ball in the fourth quarter in key victories. The LSU triumph in Little Rock to end the 2010 regular season is a highlight. The Hogs punched their Sugar Bowl trip with a 31-23 victory over No. 6 LSU.

“We had a great passing team, maybe one of the best ever in college football,” Mallett said. “We had receivers that really understood how to run a route and be open in 2.1 seconds.

“But I am not sure I’ve ever had as much fun as running out the clock against LSU,” he said. “We got the ball back with the lead and killed the last 4:11. We ran a naked (bootleg) on first down, but then called runs on every play all the way to the 1-yard line.”

There were key pass plays earlier, including a fourth-and-3 pass to Joe Adams for a touchdown. Adams beat Tyrann Matthieu with a stutter step and go route.

“I won’t ever forget that play,” Mallett said. “We worked on it for a year just for LSU. There was a timeout and Bobby asked me about it. I said, ‘Heck yeah.’

“That was a young Honey Badger that Joe beat and a John Chavis defense. They blitzed a lot. Sure enough, we line up and they are in blitz zero. It was going to work.”

Mallett teamed with Cobi Hamilton for an 80-yard touchdown pass to end the first half.

“I thought we were going onto the field to run out the clock,” Mallett said. “But Bobby called the post to Cobi. The safety bit down on DJ Williams and Cobi split them. Then Jarius Wright ran down the field to get the last man. That is the kind of team we had.”

The Sugar Bowl was clearly bitter sweet. The Hogs had chances to win it in the closing minutes.

“We did, but we didn’t make enough plays,” Mallett said. “They were there to make.”

It seems like a long time ago to Mallett. “I think about those things at times, but it’s all about trying to win a state championship,” he said. “I feel confident in this team. We’ve come a long way compared to last year this time. We feel good about this team.”

Quarterback Noah Smith has spent the spring with the baseball team, but has talent.

“We have the entire offensive line back,” Mallett said. “That’s important.”

The system is a little bit of everything. “We run spread, we get (the quarterback) under center, we run shotgun,” Mallett said. “We run two tight ends. We run five wide receivers. We are much better this year. I’m not re-teaching stuff. I see recall.”

Mallett has visions of big things at White Hall and at Arkansas.

“I liked what I saw at the spring game,” he said. “They are talented. KJ Jefferson and Rocket Sanders are really good. They have a good team, good athletes.”

But he knows that’s the case all around the SEC. He’s interested to watch his old mentor, Petrino, try to mesh with Jimbo Fisher at Texas A&M.

“I talk to Bobby some,” he said. “I tried to get on with his staff at Missouri State. As far as A&M, he’s going to have athletes. I grew up playing in Texas and there are athletes everywhere. So he’ll have what he needs.

“Now what kind of a power structure happens there between him and Bobby, I don’t know.”

There was talk about summer plans as the home he started on the White River during his Mountain Home days is finally ready. He was seven days from getting the keys at the time of the interview.

“I was up there a few weeks ago and I saw (brown trout) spawning beds behind the house,” Mallett said. “Gosh, there is always something to do here (at White Hall), but I need to see if I can catch a big brown trout.”

Ryan Mallett has the arm to make the cast. Just ask Paul Petrino.