Today’s edition of Forgotten Coaches focuses on another former one-time winner. He has the distinct honor of taking the Los Angeles Rams to a Super Bowl. However, most of his time was spent as an assistant coach for various places, as well as internationally. Today’s Forgotten Coach is Ray Malavasi.
Malavasi had a long career as a coach in professional football. He was only a head coach for six seasons in the NFL. Malavasi did play for Army under Red Blaik, as well as assistant coach Vince Lombardi.
Malavasi ended up leaving Army though, due to a cheating scandal, one of 90 players to do so. The scandal was featured in a movie on ESPN in 2005. Malavasi had tryouts for the NFL, but was never able to make it to pro football as a player.
Malavasi began his coaching career in the college ranks before reaching the pros. He spent several seasons as an assistant for the University of Minnesota, Memphis State and Wake Forest. Malavasi had his first pro gig with the Denver Broncos of the AFL.
With the Broncos, Malavasi spent several seasons as an assistant, until he got the opportunity to be interim head coach in 1966. Malavasi, who was then 36, took over for Mac Speedle, who was fired two games into the season. Things didn’t get much better for the Broncos under Malavasi. The team went 4-8 the rest of the way and Malavasi was out after the season.
The next gigs for Malavasi were in Canada, followed by a stint with Buffalo. He then worked as a defensive coach for a couple of seasons with the Oakland Raiders. Malavasi however resigned in 1973 after two seasons in Oakland, reportedly unhappy with his place on the team.
Raiders Head Coach John Madden accused Malavasi of tampering, saying teams were “enticing” Malavasi. The charge was denied by Malavasi.
Just a few months later, Malavasi was hired on by another California team, the Los Angeles Rams. He spent several seasons as an assistant, working his way up to defensive coordinator.
Malavasi would get his opportunity to be a head coach in 1978. The team had originally hired former Washington Coach George Allen. However, Allen was fired after two exhibition games. Malavasi took over and led the Rams to a 12-4 record and a division title.
The 1978 team was led by quarterback Pat Haden, who had one of his best seasons in his short NFL career. Haden passed for nearly 3000 yards, with 13 touchdowns, but a career high 19 interceptions.
In the playoffs, the Rams scored a division round win over the Minnesota Vikings, 34-10. The Rams would lose 28-0 to Dallas in the NFC Title game, ending their season.
Los Angeles started out the 1979 season winning four of their first six games. However, they lost three of their next four to be at 5-6 for the season. Malavasi’s Rams lost once more from there and won the division title with a 9-7 record. During their final stretch, Los Angeles was without Haden, who suffered a broken finger during midseason. Malavasi and the Rams turned towards 25-year-old back-up Vince Ferragamo.
The Rams first challenge in the playoffs was a Dec. 30 division round game against the Dallas Cowboys at Texas Stadium. Los Angeles took a 14-5 lead at halftime. Dallas responded with two touchdowns of their own, including a fourth quarter TD pass from Roger Staubach to Jay Saldi for two-yards, in the second half to lead 19-14 in the fourth quarter.
With 2:06 left in the game, Ferragamo completed a tipped pass to Billy Waddy, who ran it 50-yards for the go-ahead toucdhdown. The Rams defense, led by Jack Youngblood, was able to hold off the Staubach-led Cowboys as Los Angeles won 21-19.
The Rams would play Tampa Bay in the NFC Title game. The Bucs were a team that finished the previous season 5-11 and they weren’t too far away from being the first of two teams to have a winless NFL season.
No touchdowns were scored during the game. However the Rams rushed for more than 200 yards, which set up three Frank Corral field goals, to give Los Angeles the 9-0 win and win the NFC Title.
Malavasi would have his first (and only) chance to win a Super Bowl title, something neither Chuck Knox or George Allen were able to do in their careers. Only the Pittsburgh Steelers stood in the Rams way. The Steelers had won three Super Bowl titles up to that point, including the previous season.
Super Bowl XIV itself was played in the Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena. It was close in the first half as a Cullen Bryant touchdown, paired with two field goals by Corral helped give the Rams a 13-10 lead at halftime. Pittsburgh responded in the third quarter with a Terry Bradshaw touchdown pass for 47-yards to Lynn Swann. The Steelers then led 17-13.
Los Angeles didn’t go away as a halfback pass by Lawrence McCutcheon to Ron Smith for 24 yards once again put the Rams in the lead. It would be the Rams final touchdown in the game as the Steelers took the lead once more on a 74-yard pass from Bradshaw to John Stallworth.
The Rams had one more opportunity, but Ferragamo was picked off on a sustained drive by Jack Lambert. The Steelers scored one more touchdown to put the icing on the cake for their fourth Super Bowl title. The final score was 31-19.
Despite the loss in the Super Bowl, the Rams run through the playoffs with Ferragamo and Malavasi as Head Coach is one that won’t be forgotten by longtime Rams fans.
The Rams would make the playoffs once more with Malavasi as head coach. They clinched a wild card berth during the 1980 season. Malavasi had given the quarterback duties at that point to Ferragamo, who had an excellent season. Ferragamo during the ’80 season passed for nearly 3,200 yards and 30 touchdowns. The Rams would lose on wild card weekend to the Dallas Cowboys.
The 1980 season was the Rams first playing in Anaheim. The Rams were also led by new majority owner Georgia Frontiere. Carroll Rosenbloom had died tragically before the 1979 season.
Malavasi had two more seasons from there. The team went 6-10 in 1981 and 2-7 in the strike shortened 1982 season. Malavasi was ousted after that and the team brought in USC Coach John Robinson.
Robinson was able to get the Rams to the playoffs on multiple occasions, but wasn’t able to get the team to the Super Bowl, like Malavasi did. The Rams would finally win a Super Bowl, but it would be in St. Louis during the 1999-2000 season.
Malavasi died of a heart attack at the age of 57. Malavasi’s head coaching record in the NFL was 44-41.
It’s important to not forget what Malavasi was able to do in his short time as a head coach. Very few can be an interim coach that guides a team to a conference championship game. Even fewer can follow it up the next season with a trip to the Super Bowl.
Malavasi’s time was short, but it did have an impact. And who knows what would have happened if the Rams were able to hold on to beat the Steelers in Super Bowl XIV. I probably wouldn’t be writing this column about Malavasi because he might be remembered much more.
Stats courtesy of Pro Football reference. Archived articles courtesy of Google News