At the way-too-young age of 35, former Arkansas and NFL quarterback Ryan Mallett drowned Tuesday while vacationing in Destin, Florida.
The Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office said that first responders were called to the scene at 2:12 p.m. Central yesterday behind the 700 block of Gulf Shore Drive. A group of people near the second sand bar were struggling in a rip current to get back to shore.
When lifeguards reached Mallett, he had gone under. He was not breathing when they got him pulled out of the water and lifesaving measures were unsuccessful. He was pronounced dead at the Destin Emergency Room.
The tragic news led to an outpouring of support for Mallett’s family and friends from his former teammates at Arkansas and in the NFL.
Bobby Petrino, Mallett’s head coach at Arkansas, posted this tribute on his Twitter page:
Mallett started his collegiate career at Michigan, throwing for 892 yards with a 7/5 touchdown-to-interception ratio as a freshman. Under the old transfer rules back then, he was forced to sit out the 2008 season after leaving Ann Arbor for Arkansas.
In his first season with the Razorbacks in 2009, Mallett earned second-team All-SEC honors and led his team to an 8-5 record. He completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 3,624 yards with a 30/7 TD-INT ratio.
Facing unbeaten and top-ranked Florida at The Swamp, Arkansas was facing a third-and-17 play with less than 10 minutes remaining in a tied game (13-13) when Mallett stepped up in the pocket to elude pressure and hit Greg Childs with a 75-yard TD pass.
However, UF was gifted a couple of controversial calls and was able to rally for a 23-20 win thanks to a game-winning field goal with nine seconds left. Arkansas bounced back, though, with Mallett leading the team to five wins in its last six games to set up momentum for the next season.
In 2010, Mallett finished seventh in voting for the Heisman Trophy and was a second-team All-SEC pick again. He led the Razorbacks to a 10-3 straight-up record and a 9-3 against-the-spread mark. After a loss at Auburn, they won six games in a row both SU and ATS to earn a Sugar Bowl berth.
For the season, Mallett connected on 64.7 percent of his throws for 3,869 yards with a 32/12 TD-INT ratio. He also had four rushing TDs, but the Hogs lost 31-26 to Ohio St. in New Orleans.
Despite playing only two seasons at Arkansas, he’s ranked second in program history in career passing yards with 7,493, trailing only Tyler Wilson, who was Mallett’s back-up in 2009 and 2010. Wilson had 7,765 career passing yards for the Hogs from 2008-12. Mallett led his teams to an 18-8 record in 26 starts for the Razorbacks.
The New England Patriots selected Mallett in the third round with the No. 74 overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. He would only get in for 24 snaps in New England due to the durability of Tom Brady, and the Patriots traded Mallett to Houston before the 2014 campaign.
In parts of two seasons with the Texans, Mallett made six starts in nine appearances. He led Houston to a 23-7 win at Cleveland in his first career start, throwing for 211 yards and a pair of TDs.
Mallett started four times for the Texans in 2015, with the team going 1-3. He completed 53.1 percent of his passes for 770 yards with a 3/4 TD-INT ratio. In October of that season, he was released.
Mallett was quickly picked up by the Baltimore Ravens, who started him twice before the 2015 season ended. He went 1-1 as a starter, completing 59.8 percent of his throws for 566 yards with a 2/2 TD-INT ratio.
In 2016 and 2017 with the Ravens, Mallett appeared in six games before retiring. He had 1,835 career passing yards, a 9/10 TD-INT ratio and one rushing TD in seven NFL seasons.
After starting his coaching career as an assistant at Mountain Home High School, Mallett was hired as the head coach at White Hall HS in 2022. At that time, he told the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, “I always knew I was going to coach. 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.”
Dangerous rip currents have been the norm over the last two weeks in the Florida panhandle. Seven tourists died in the Gulf of Mexico from June 15-24 in the Panama City Beach area, including one death in Blue Mountain Beach in Walton County. Mallett became the eighth victim in the last two weeks in the 47-mile stretch from PCB to Destin.
The PCB area has been the deadliest beach in the United States so far in 2023. In PCB alone this past Saturday, lifeguards conducted 39 successful rescues.
I live in this area (Santa Rosa Beach), about 15 miles East of where Mallett’s awful tragedy occurred yesterday. The beaches have constantly had double red flags in the last two weeks. In this scenario, only surfers are allowed in the water and if beachgoers don’t abide by warnings, they’re issued $500 fines.
However, Tuesday’s conditions were much improved and yellow flags were flying. Therefore, Mallett was not violating any beach laws like many of the previous victims recently.
Lifeguards monitor a seven-mile stretch along Destin beaches, but it’s unclear how far away the closest lifeguard station was from where Mallett was pulled out of the water.
When caught in a rip current, swimmers should stay calm and conserve energy. The current won’t pull you under, but it will take you out further from the beach.
Do not swim against the current or you will quickly gas out. The way to safely get out is to always swim (or simply float on your back) parallel to the shore until you’re out of the current. At that point, you can ride the waves or safely swim back to shore.