Born: November 8, 1930
Died: December 15, 1987
Town: Passaic, New Jersey
Raymondo Giuseppi Giovanni Baptiste Malavasi was born November 8, 1930 in Passaic. A popular and athletic boy who excelled at a number of sports, Ray was a serious student who set his sights on a career in civil engineering. He earned an appointment to West Point, where he studied engineering and played football for Army under coach Red Blaik and assistant Vince Lombardi. Ray was one 43 varsity players discharged in the wake of a cribbing scandal in 1952. He completed his degree at Mississippi State and coached freshman football for a year before being commissioned as a second lieutenant in the army.
After his military service, Ray embarked on a coaching career that saw him work as an assistant at Minnesota, Memphis State and Wake Forest. In 1962, he was hired by the AFL Denver Broncos as personnel director, and also coached the defensive line under coach Jack Faulkner. The two formed a longtime friendship and would work together with the NFL Rams in the 1970s and 1980s. The Broncos struggled during their early years and in 1966 Ray was promoted to interim coach after Mac Speedie was fired two games into the regular season. Denver went 4–8 in Ray’s first shot at a pro coaching job.
From Denver, Ray spent two years as an assistant coach in the CFL, then worked for the Buffalo Bills and Oakland Raiders in the NFL. As linebackers coach with the Raiders, Ray helped develop fellow New Jerseyan Phil Villapiano. In 1973, the Los Angeles Rams hired Chuck Knox as head coach. He in turn hired Ray as defensive coordinator. The Raiders accused Knox and the Rams of tampering with Ray when he was still under contract; Ray had to submit to a lie detector test to prove that this was false.
As an assistant to Knox in L.A., Ray was instrumental in assembling a dominant defensive front four, which starred Jack Youngblood, Merlin Olsen, Fred Dryer and Larry Brooks, as well as a linebacking corps led by Hacksaw Reynolds.
After the 1977 season, Knox left the Rams to coach the Buffalo Bills. Ray applied for the L.A. job, but the Rams hired George Allen instead. He tabbed Ray as his defensive coordinator. Allen was a strict disciplinarian and some Rams stars—most notably linebacker Isiah Robertson—revolted. After two lackluster exhibition games, owner Carroll Rosenbloom fired Allen and promoted Ray to head coach. Colorful and outspoken, Ray was very popular with the players.
The Rams had loads of talent and Ray made the most of it, guiding the team to a 12–4 record in the first year the NFL played a 16-game schedule. The Rams defeated the Vikings in the opening round of the playoffs 34–10, but lost to the Cowboys 28–0 in the NFC Championship. The game was actually a rugged defensive battle until the fourth quarter, when Dallas scored three touchdowns.
The Rams went 9–7 in 1979 and outscored their opponents by just 14 points. They had just enough to hold off a pesky Saints team to win the NFC West, thanks to young Vince Ferragamo, who took over at quarterback after an injury to starter Pat Haden. The Rams edged the Cowboys 21–19 in their opening playoff game, and squeaked by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship 9–0. Their magical season ended in Super Bowl XIV against the Steelers. L.A. led 19–17 heading into the fourth quarter, but a 73-yard TD pass from Terry Bradshaw to John Stallworth gave Pittsburgh a lead and the Steelers won 31–19.
The Rams went 11–5 in 1980 but followed that up with two losing campaigns. After going 2–7 in the strike-shortened 1982 season, he was fired and replaced by USC coaching legend John Robinson.
Ray kept his hand in coaching, taking a job as an assistant with the L.A. Express of the newly formed USFL in 1984. Ray’s former GM with the Rams, Don Klosterman, hired him to work with the team’s defense. He helped the Express make the playoffs, where they played the longest game in pro football history—a 27–21 triple-overtime victory over the Michigan Panthers that lasted 93 minutes. Ray also coached the Australian national football team on a tour of Europe, and worked on a book about coaching techniques. In addition, Ray worked briefly with Pro Sports Management, a company run by Hank Stram and Oscar Robertson, and was involved with two restaurants in Orange County. Ray also put his engineering degree to work. He was hired by a company that specialized in holography, creating some of the first security holograms for credit cards.
Ray passed away in 1987 in Santa Ana at age 57 after suffering a heart attack. He had undergone bypass surgery prior to the 1979 season but had not experienced any health issues prior to his death.