Malavasi, Ex-Coach of Rams, Dead at 57

Times Staff Writer

Ray Malavasi, the only coach to take the Rams to the Super Bowl, collapsed and died of a heart attack Tuesday in Santa Ana.

Malavasi, 57, was in the cafeteria on the seventh floor of the federal building when stricken. Santa Ana Fire Dept. paramedics were summoned at 1:59 p.m. and found him in full cardiac arrest, according to Battalion Chief Tim Graber.

Civilian personnel were already applying cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the paramedic crew of six administered emergency heart treatment when they arrived, but Malavasi did not respond. He was transported to Western Medical Center at 2:27 and pronounced dead at 2:47.

Malavasi came to the Rams as line coach and defensive coordinator under coach Chuck Knox in 1973. When Knox moved to Buffalo after the '77 season, Carroll Rosenbloom, the late owner, hired George Allen as a replacement but fired Allen after only two exhibition games.

Malavasi, who also had applied for the opening, then became the head coach. His first team had a 12-4 record in the regular season but lost the National Football Conference title game to the Dallas Cowboys. After Rosenbloom drowned in the spring of '79, Malavasi's second team was only 9-7 but reached the Super Bowl before losing, 31-19, to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Rams were 11-5 in '80, before losing a first-round playoff game to Dallas, and then went 6-10 in '81 and 2-7 in the strike-shortened '82 season. Owner Georgia Frontiere fired Malavasi and hired John Robinson, the current coach.

"He was a wonderful person," Frontiere said of Malavasi. "I am terribly saddened by the news. My heart goes out to his family."

The colorful, outspoken Malavasi had coronary bypass surgery in 1979 but had remained active and in apparent good health since then. After leaving the Rams, he became an assistant coach with the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League for the '84 season and, as recently as Sept. 27, coached a flag football team in a charity game in Burbank on the first Sunday of the National Football League players' strike.

As a head coach, Malavasi's best player with the Rams was defensive end Jack Youngblood, who remains with the organization as a radio broadcaster and administrator.

"It's a tragedy to lose a friend and a comrade who you worked with, fought with and competed with on the football field," Youngblood said. "Ray was one of the best defensive coaches I ever played for, and to lose a friend who has been part of my career is a sad day."

Malavasi had a degree in civil and structural engineering from Mississippi State. At the time of his death he was involved in a holograph business, producing the artwork for credit cards.

He also was regional vice president of Pro Sports Management, a service group for athletes operated by former NFL coach Hank Stram and former basketball great Oscar Robertson, but resigned recently because of his other business.

Bob O'Connor, former athletic director at Pierce College, helped Malavasi coach the Australian national football team on a tour of Europe last year and was collaborating with Malavasi on an unfinished technical football book.

Malavasi, a resident of Huntington Beach, also was active in Orange County community and charitable affairs in recent years and was temporarily involved in several businesses, including two restaurants.

He was born Raymondo Giuseppi Giovanni Baptiste Malavasi in Passaic, N.J., on Nov. 8, 1930. He studied engineering at West Point and played under Earl (Red) Blaik and Vince Lombardi but left the academy during the cribbing scandals of that era.

He finished his college career at Mississippi State and coached the freshman football team for one season, then was commissioned in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant and was a player-coach for service teams at Ft. Belvoir, Va., before starting a full-time coaching career as an assistant coach at the University of Minnesota, Memphis State and Wake Forest.

He became personnel director of the Denver Broncos in '62, defensive line coach in '63 and head coach in '66 when Mac Speedie was fired. He had a 4-8 record, then moved to Hamilton of the Canadian Football League as an assistant in '67-68, to the Buffalo Bills in '69-70 and to the Oakland Raiders as linebacker coach in '71-72.

Although his contract with the Raiders was up, they charged the Rams with tampering when Knox tried to hire Malavasi in '73. The league absolved the Rams of wrongdoing--after giving Malavasi a lie detector test--and Knox put him in charge of the defense, with emphasis on the four-man line that would dominate the league in ensuing seasons.

Merlin Olsen was one tackle, Larry Brooks became the other, and Youngblood and Fred Dryer became the regular defensive ends, with Jack (Hacksaw) Reynolds taking over at middle linebacker.

Knox said: "He had a great football mind. He was very innovative and a good teacher on the field, with the ability to fire up a team."

One of Malavasi's closest friends in football was Jack Faulkner, administrator of football operations for the Rams, who recalled Malavasi's zest for life and fine food.

"He'd been told to take care of himself, and of course you know he's one of those kind of guys who just wouldn't listen to too many people," Faulkner said.

"He was a fine coach. I hired him in 1962 at Denver as a scout, then made him a defensive coach.

"That's really shocking. I haven't seen him for a while. The last time I saw him, he was in good shape."

Dr. Robert Kerlan, the Rams' team physician, said he had talked with Malavasi recently "and we were looking to get together.

"He was sure a players' coach. The players loved him. They felt like he was one of them--a man's man and a down-to-earth guy. I know he loved his work."

Former Ram general manager Don Klosterman said: "I remember when he had his first heart attack. He was sitting right across from me at the NFL meetings in Hawaii in 1979."

Shortly afterward, Klosterman, who had had a bypass himself, helped persuade Malavasi to do the same.

Rod Perry, a former Ram Pro Bowl cornerback, recalled Malavasi as "a defensive genius. He related really well to the players as a defensive coordinator. But sometimes as a head coach he would take a different outlook. But he had the ability to communicate to the players . . . the ability to get us ready to play through his way of motivating players."

Perry, now a coach of defensive backs at Fresno State, recalled the Super Bowl season when the Rams recovered from a 5-6 record to win the NFC West. "Ray had a way of getting us all to stick together until all the injured players got back," Perry said. "We had a lot of injured players. But he told us we could win even though we were virtually out of it. His philosophy of sticking together and working together got us back."

Malavasi is survived by his wife, Mary, and three sons and two daughters. Funeral arrangements are pending.

MALAVASI'S REGULAR-SEASON RECORD WITH RAMS

Year Won Lost Pct. Finish 1978 12 4 .750 First 1979 9 7 .563 First 1980 11 5 .688 Second 1981 6 10 .375 Third 1982 2 7 .222 Fourth Total 43 36 .544

1978--Lost to Dallas in NFC championship game, 28-0.

1979--Lost to Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XIV, 31-19.

1980--Lost to Dallas in first round of playoffs, 34-14.

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