Over the next 11 days, the Star will reveal our picks for Tucson’s best high school football coaches of all time. Our countdown continues today with John Mallamo, who helped return Tucson High to the top after a downfall.
No. 11: John Mallamo
School: Tucson High School
Years in coaching: 1956-1966
Local record: 79-30-4
Achievements: Tucson High was nearly bursting at the seams in 1953, ranking as one of the largest student bodies in the nation with around 6,800 enrolled. The district introduced two new schools, Catalina and Pueblo, and the effect on the Tucson football program was immediate and devastating. The Badgers stumbled to a 3-15 record over the next two years, causing the school to search for a replacement for the departing Jason “Red” Greer.
The Badgers found the one in Mallamo. The New York native had won two state titles with Buckeye High and spent time coaching at Phoenix Camelback before coming to Tucson High. He built the Badgers up through the trenches and slowly but consistently turned Tucson back into an Arizona power.
After going 16-10-3 over the first three seasons, the Badgers became a regular in the state playoffs and title picture. Aside from a 3-5-1 record in 1964 — Mallamo’s only losing season with the Badgers — Tucson won 42 of 45 games and appeared in three state championship games from 1962 to 1966. His crowning moment came with the 1965 state final, which he followed up with his best coaching performance.
The 1966 squad had to replace 10 starters, including seven All-State players, but behind a powerful line anchored by Bill Dawson and nicknamed the “fearsome fivesome,” Tucson went 11-1 with an admittedly less talented team and beat Mesa Westwood 14-7 in the championship.
Mallamo was named Arizona’s top coach and retired following back-to-back titles, becoming an assistant principal at Tucson High before leaving in 1971 to become Sabino’s first principal. He retired in 1980 and died seven years later at 67.
Memorable moment: After losing to Scottsdale Arcadia 40-7 in 1962 state championship and the state semifinals in 1959 and 1960, Mallamo told the Arizona Daily Star he felt like the Badgers were snake-bitten in the playoffs.
The Badgers finally found the antidote , steamrolling Yuma in the second half in front of a reported 18,000 at Arizona Stadium to cap of a 12-0 season with a 27-7 victory. All-American Lewis Cook scored twice in the fourth quarter and rumbled for 139 yards, and fellow back Davey Jones added 94 yards and a score . While the victory marked Tucson’s 10th title overall, the win was its first since playoffs were introduced in 1959.
From the archives: “I don’t remember seeing a better high school football team in Arizona. And I was attending Phoenix Union in the days when Union, Mesa, Yuma and Tucson High were producing some real great football teams.” — UA stadium manager Stub Ashcraft, on Mallamo’s 1965 championship squad, in the Jan. 5, 1966, Arizona Daily Star.
Big number: 404. During the Badgers’ 1965 campaign, the Tucson offense, spearheaded by Cook, racked up 404 points, the most in city and school history at that point. The record didn’t last long: Another undefeated Tucson High squad broke the mark just five years later with 475 points in the 1970 season. Still, Mallamo’s team sits second in Badgers history in total points as it averaged nearly five touchdowns (33.7 points) each game. Mallamo’s 1965 defense was talented in its own right, allowing a then-record 94 points all season.