THREE RIVERS AREA It’s less than a month before the Arkansas Razorbacks open the football season against something called Tennessee Tech, and the kitchen table in Jim and Debbie Mallett’s home here in Texarkana is crowded with preseason magazines. They all seem to share the same theme, or at least the same cover: a picture of Jim and Debbie’s only son, Razorback quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Debbie seems one part bemused and one part embarrassed by it all. She recounts the surreal experience of returning on a plane from Florida and spying a woman deep into a story about Ryan in USA Today. Or the time she was having dinner out of town and the waitress found out Debbie was from Texarkana, and remarked, “Do you know Ryan Mallett is from Texarkana?”
“All this is so weird to me,” Debbie said. “I don’t see him as a football player, but as a son.”
So the magazines pile up. Debbie’s scrapbook on Ryan the football player grows thicker. The action shots hanging on the wall of her son playing quarterback at Michigan draw more interest from visitors, as does one of Ryan’s waist-high trophies near the fireplace.
But for all the magazine covers and newspaper clips, Debbie and Jim Mallett seem proudest of their family photos, which aren’t just a pictorial narrative of the Malletts in Arkansas (and Texas) but something of a coaching and teaching tree — with branches spreading across the state and roots running generations deep.
She pulls out a photo of The Grandkids — of which there are plenty —13 on the Mallett side, three on the Burnette side. (Debbie’s maiden name is Burnette.) These aren’t Debbie and Jim’s grandkids. These are the grandkids of Morse and Lula Mallett and Malcolm and Gail Burnette, and they have more in common than bloodlines. Like their grandparents, parents, aunts and uncles, almost all of The Grandkids want to be or are teaching or coaching.
It’s the family business.
Apologies in advance for overlooking a budding teacher or coach, but the best a non-math major can figure, having gone over the list several times with Debbie Mallett, there are at least 21 in the Mallett-Burnette extended family who are in education or coaching or both.
And they seem to be everywhere. Or have been.
From Lincoln, Ark., hugging the Oklahoma border, to Barton, deep in the Arkansas Delta, from Russellville and Morrilton to Searcy and Parkin, from Wynne and Marion to Sulphur Springs and Hooks, Texas. If you’ve seen a high school game outside of central Arkansas in the last three decades, chances are you’ve seen a Mallett playing or coaching, if not watching from the stands as a member of the faculty.
Consider the career of Danny Mallett, one of Jim’s three brothers, along with Mark and Trent. Danny may be best known for serving as head football coach of the Searcy Lions, and he’s now coaching football at Wynne. But he’s also had (get your map handy) stops in Marion, Atkins, Morrilton, Earle, Parkin, and Sulphur Springs. His son Blaine is an assistant football coach at Barton High School.
Quick aside: At Earle, Danny Mallett coached the girls basketball team, including a game against the Debbie Burnette-led Parkin Tigers. You get these kinds of criss-cross, ya-gotta-be-kidding coincidences a lot with the Malletts. Another example: Calvin Mallett, Jim’s cousin who now coaches in Yellville, was a basketball referee who whistled some of Jim’s games when he coached basketball at Lincoln. Or was it Parkin? Salem?
It’s easy to get lost among the branches.
“All the Malletts are kin,” Debbie said.
The man who started all this, the patriarch of the first family, was Morse Mallett, the first principal at Sidney Deener Elementary School in Searcy who raised a schoolteacher daughter and a foursome of strong-armed boys who never really left the ball fields and classrooms.
“All the brothers were known for their arms,” Jim Mallett said. “At Arkansas Tech, Danny would play in a doubleheader and pitch one game and catch the next.”
Jim Mallett started his career at Salem, coaching and teaching history. He met Debbie Burnette at a football game — naturally — which also happened to be a family affair. Double naturally. Debbie was teaching at the school where one of Jim’s brothers coached.
Once the Malletts married, they moved from town to town, school to school, an education odyssey that’s indicative of many in the family.
“When I was younger, I loved moving,” Debbie Mallett said, “setting up a new house, meeting new people. But when daughter Lauren and Ryan came along, it got tougher.”
Debbie and Jim have been in Texarkana for a decade now. Jim’s in his ninth year at Texas Middle School; Debbie’s in her fourth there in special education. A former English, journalism and speech teacher, Debbie Mallett said she’s never enjoyed a teaching job more. And she would know.
As for Jim, who made time for an interview in between two-a-day football practices, it’s hard to imagine him doing anything other than coaching.
And guess what? Guess what Ryan Mallett wants to do when the crowd’s roar falls silent for good?
“When Ryan is done playing football, he wants to coach,” Debbie said. “It’s in his blood.”
Mike White, a longtime family friend of the Malletts in Texarkana, has known Ryan since he was in grade school. White has employed the big quarterback during summers, mowing lawns at White’s rental units. He’s seen lots of Ryan Mallett’s football games. But ...
“When I saw him the happiest was the couple of springs he would help me coach baseball,” White said. “He just loved it.”
Like grandfather, like father, like son. Like a Mallett.
Print Headline: Meet the Mallets