TCU coach Jim Wacker kicked seven players off his team six weeks ago for taking under-the-table money from alumni, an illicit practice about as rare in college football as the singing of school songs. Moola, moola. Moola, moola! But that isn't what started Wacker talking to himself. Wacker has always talked to himself. "Wacker," Wacker will say, referring to himself in the third person as he often does, "why did you do it?" He replies, "Because Wacker's an idiot."
Fact is, until he did it, life as a TCU Horned Frog was as fine as anybody could remember, and most of that was thanks to the slightly whacked-out Wacker, 6'5" and 210 pounds of cross-wired Volkswagen batteries firing this way and that. For TCU fans, who had endured six thirsty years under FA. (Extra) Dry, Wacker was as welcome as an ice-cold Bud on a hot Texas day. His bizarre weekly coach's show became such an event on campus that students organized parties to watch it. One opened with a film clip of Wacker falling flat on his face in the Astrodome. "Unbeleeevable, let's watch that again," said Wacker, and we do, this time in slow motion.
Too, strange un-coachlike utterances were emanating from his direction. "My players need love," he would say. "Heck, Wacker needs love. We all need love." Finally, this Wacker business of The Buck(s) Stop Here was very new. "We want players who can't be bought," he says, "because Wacker ain't buyin' any." Trouble was, Wacker would come to find out, others at TCU still were.
Just how different is Wacker? People who know him best will tell you, only half kiddingly, that it's not just his offensive line that is unbalanced. After all, this is a man who, at Southwest Texas State, once fired his entire kickoff coverage team and the special-teams coach during a game. "I want 11 new guys out there or Wacker is going to be all over somebody's butt!" Wacker said.
"But Coach," said the flabbergasted assistant, "we don't have 11 more guys!"
Wacker comes by some of his zaniness honestly. His father, a Detroit minister, used to sneak out to Tigers games on afternoons when the moral-fiber business was a little slow, often without remembering to tell his wife. No problem. The Rev. Wacker would rave and rant and carry on so famously at games that Mrs. Wacker had only to turn on the broadcasts to hear him and know he was safe. "That's how my dad is, too," says Mike Wacker, 23, Jim's son. "He's got the worst memory. In a meeting he'll tell one of the coaches, 'Hey, when we're done, remind me to go to the bathroom.' "
An average defensive lineman at Lutheran High, Wacker nonetheless chose coaching as his profession. His first big job came at a Portland, Ore. high school, where he had the idea of using two quarterbacks at once. Each quarterback would put his hands under center, and it was up to the defense to guess which one came away with the ball. This worked quite well until Wacker discovered it was illegal. Even with one quarterback, Wacker proved to be skilled as a coach, winning two NAIA championships at Texas Lutheran and two NCAA Division II titles at Southwest Texas State before TCU called in 1983.
Wacker went from a 1-8-2 Frog in his first season to an 8-4 prince and a bowl appearance in '84. He was named national Coach of the Year by UPI, ESPN and The Sporting News, and TCU put together two boffo recruiting seasons. But Wacker was also commanding attention in other ways. As much as he was adored in Fort Worth, he was becoming equally disdained around the rest of the SWC because of a Xeroxed plea he sent his fellow SWC coaches to "clean up" the cheating in the conference. "Let's at least sit down and talk about it," wrote Wacker.
Let's not, was the message from most of the other coaches. Two returned scalding replies. " 'Mind your own business,' is basically what they said," Wacker says. Others ignored him. Two leaked the letter to newspapers. Columnists called Wacker "naive," but he says, "Wacker wasn't naive about the cheating. Wacker was naive to think anybody wanted to do anything about it."
Then, on Sept. 19, 1985, everything Wacker had accomplished at TCU came apart like a $9 suit. That day Horned Frog running-back coach Tom Perry wandered down to the weight room, where Heisman Trophy candidate Kenneth Davis was acting funny. The air was rife with rumors that SMU players were fingering players from TCU and other SWC schools in talks with the NCAA. Because, as the world now knows, Davis had received a contract promising him $38,000 in cash and goods to play under Dry and was getting $400 per month from TCU booster Dick Lowe, Davis's conscience was starting to get pricked. But not much.