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Former Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett, who went on to 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 10 p.m. 2:12 p.m. local time when a group of people swimming in the Gulf of Mexico near a sandbar struggled to get back to shore. One of the people, later identified as Mallett, was not breathing when he was pulled from 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,” the White Hall, Arkansas school district where Mallett coached high school football, wrote in a post on his 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 victory 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 the 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 said in a statement posted to Twitter. “He was a Razorback legend with a greater talent and personality to match. He led our program to some of our best moments in recent memory. He will be missed by all 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, 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 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, which started at Michigan in 2007, and then when he moved 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 ahead of 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 wrote in a social media post: “We lost a great man. Thanks for everything Ryan.”
Mallett played just 24 snaps as Brady’s backup in New England, a result of Brady’s durability and rarely coming out of games. He was traded to the Houston Texans prior to the 2014 season, where he played in nine games, making six starts, over parts of two seasons with the team before being released in October 2015. He subsequently signed with the Baltimore Ravens, for whom he made two starts in eight appearances through 2017.
“Terrible news to read about Ryan Mallett,” JJ Watt, a former teammate of Mallett’s in Houston, said in a tweet. “Gone way too soon. Rest in peace brother.”
Added Ravens coach John Harbaugh in a Twitter post from the team: “Ryan was a part of us. I will always remember the love he had for his teammates and for making the most of and enjoying every football day while he was here.”
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 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 coach at White Hall, according to the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. “It’s just natural to me. I get it. I understand how everything works and I just love football. You teach kids the right way at a young age and that’s something I really enjoy.”
ESPN’s Mike Reiss, The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.