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1978 SNF Pittsburgh 7 at LA 10

November 05, 2019 09:54AM
Rams rushed for almost 200 yards against the Steel Curtain.

The Magic Of Ray Malavasi


Ray Malavasi is an exceptional coach for many reasons, the foremost being that his players like him. Generally, players tolerate their coaches in pro football, especially if the coaches are authoritarian. And those who may be benign get no respect.

“Ray's a nice guy.” says Fred Dryer, a seasoned defensive end. “He's happy with himself and he understands what's going on. He lets players be players.” Player popularity does not assure a coach of tenure, but in Malavasi's case it may be the key to what has been a locked door.

Malavasi, 48 years old, is the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams, a position burdened with unusual considerations. For example, the Rams play in the nation's most sprawling metropolitan area and the fan's attachment to the team is tenuous at best. Most follow the team—support would be the wrong word—by television rather than by attending the games.

Expectations are high, and they have not been met in years. Ram teams have been good most of the last decade, but they always have gone down in flames in the National Football League postseason playoffs, thus generating bitterness and cynicism.

A Typical Response

The owner, Carroll Rosenbloom, is in his 70's and expects his team to play in the Super Bowl now. Malavasi's response has been typically direct:

“Owners want their franchises in the Super Bowl. And that's what we're going to accomplish.”

That is what he said shortly before the present season, and the Rams won seven straight games.

They lost the next two, won last Sunday and face the Pittsburgh Steelers tonight at 9 at Los Angeles in an ABC national broadcast.

Malavasi has kept his talented team concentrating on the present in an environment of distractions. For years, outof‐town critics have suggested that the Rams never could win consistently or conclusively because they were so affected with the symbols and distractions of Hollywood.

California Diversions

That is geographic nonsense. The team actually “lives” at Blair Field in Long Beach, and most of the players reside in Orange County, far from Hollywood. However, in golden Southern California, there are a million ways to lose concentration on a game that 12year‐old boys also play. Malavasi has been successful so far, and there is little reason to suspect he cannot continue. His popularity helps.

Dryer says the players do not want to let him down, and most have more feeling for him than for Rosenbloom, the owner, or Don Klosterman, the general manager.

Malavasi seemed to be one of those people who would be an assistant coach forever, repeatedly overlooked by own- ers and general managers seeking someone who had more flash, like George Allen. Rosenbloom and Klosterman had passed over him, and they went to him only in desperation last August when it became apparent that Allen, the new head coach, was driving everyone, including the players, up the wall.

Malavasi was ready when the anointment came on Aug. 14. The Rams had just lost the second of two preseason games, and Allen's assistants, most of whom he had brought with him from Washington, were looking at game films that morning.

How He Found Out

They held a meeting, and Allen asked each coach how his players were progressing. Then Allen said that he knew the Rams were going to have a successful year, and he wished everyone the best of luck.

“Half of us didn't know what he was talking about,” Malavasi recalled. “He got up and walked out and about the same time they sent for me to be interviewed by Rosenbloom and Klosterman. I had been interviewed by them three times before. But it was a shock to me. I didn't want to get a job under those circumstances. But I had no control over that.”

Malavasi quickly made small but significant changes. He restored the defensive systems and terminology to what they had been during the previous five years when he was in charge of the Ram defense. That settled down such volatile players as Isiah Robertson, who had from the start resisted Allen's new systems.

Allen had put Malavasi in charge of the Ram offense last summer. “That area was pretty good,” the coach recalled, “except I put in some things I wanted to do myself.” These things were an opening up of the offense away from the arch‐conservative style of Allen and his predecessor, Chuck Knox. Malavasi believed in the passing ability of the quarterback, Pat Haden, and this paid off in the third game when the Rams trounced the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys. The new coach was a hero, for the moment.

A Long Career

Malavasi had been an assistant coach for a quarter‐century and a head coach only once, on an interim basis for part of a season at Denver 12 years before.

He had grown up poor in Clifton, N.J. A star player in high school, he caught the eye of Col. Earl (Red) Blaik's aggressive recruiters from the United States Military Academy, and he went to West Point for a free education.

He was a roly‐poly guard somewhat like Vince Lombardi, who then was Blaik's line coach. Glenn Davis and Doc Blanchard helped coach Malayasi's plebe team.

Army was about to field one of the greatest college teams, with Malavasi starting at guard and Blaik's son, Bob, at quarterback, when disaster struck in the summer of 1951. Ninety‐one cadets, including almost all of Blaik's football squad were dismissed from the Academy for violating the honor code.

On to Mississippi State

The same examinaton in an engineering course was given in two sessions, and several of Blaik's recruits, finding the subject difficult, took the proffered help from teammates who had done the exam first. Malavasi was a giver rather than a taker.

He went to Mississippi State, where a former Blaik coach, Murray Warmath, was in charge. Of the dismissed cadets, Gene Filipski wound up on the Giants’ team that won the National Football League championship in 1956 and Al Pollard with the Eagles. Al Conway is now an N.F.L. official.

Last winter, Malavasi went to an Army football reunion and dinner honoring Blaik in Palm Springs, Calif., and knows about many of his former teammates.

“They've all done well,” he said. “We've got presidents and vice presidents by the bucket load.”

Malavasi, commissioned as an army officer after college, was a playercoach at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Later, he was too small to make it with the Philadelphia Eagles, who had drafted him, so he stayed in coaching as an assistant with Warmath at Minnesota, then at Memphis State and Wake Forest.

Jack Faulkner, a close friend currently on the Ram staff, brought him to Denver to help with the Broncos in 1962. Malavasi stayed for four years, the last one as head coach, succeeding Mac Speedie, who in turn had succeeded Faulkner.

Next, Malavasi went to the Canadian Football League for a year with the Hamilton Tiger‐Cats, then to the Buffalo Bills for two seasons and the Oakland Raiders for two more. When Knox took charge of the Rams in 1973, Malavasi joined his staff despite resistance from Al Davis, who ran the Raiders.

Ray and his wife, Mary, have moved 22 times. How has that gone with Mary?

“It's been all right,” Malavasi replied. “She likes football. She has been good about it.” They have five children, ranging in age from 14 to 21 years.-

Malavasi has retained his sense of humor. Rosenbloom and Klosterman have undergone heart bypass surgery in ..recent years, as Malavasi did two years ago. Although terrified of the surgery, a quadruple coronary bypass, he later dismissed it as nothing.

“I was just trying to get ahead in the Ram organization,” he said.

Perhaps the simple, truthful style is why his players like him. He is not conning them or fooling them. He easily places himself at their level. As Dryer said:

“He doesn't insult us by overcoaching. He respects our intelligence.”


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