Suddenly the recruits started telling Abe they didn't want to go to a school where you could wear dirty Levi's and a T shirt. They had been other places and seen people wearing those slacks without belts and loafers with jewelry on them. They thought they might try that instead.
TCU has now had five head coaches since Abe Martin hung it up in '66. The first one, Fred Taylor, had no chance. A lifelong TCU assistant, he walked straight into the Royal-Broyles buzz saw. Worse luck followed. Jim Pittman, a former Royal aide who had done well at Tulane, would have succeeded, I think. But Pitt-man collapsed from a coronary on the sideline of only his seventh game at TCU in 1971. He died. Pittman was replaced by his chief assistant, Billy Tohill, and two years later Tohill was in an automobile accident and lost his right foot.
Jim Shofner, an ex-TCU and NFL star, was called in for 74, and all of the tragedy that preceded him may have had something to do with the excess of Bible talk he brought to the locker room. Alas, Jim apparently wasn't cut out for a head job. He won two games in three years. Enter F.A. Dry, supposedly an offensive specialist from Tulsa. Thus far, F.A.'s aerial circus has produced seasons of 2-9, 2-9, 2-8-1 and 1-10.
"We're getting there," F.A. assured me in his office last fall.
That night in a game against Rice, there was a tendency to believe him. TCU led 24-7 at the half. But then the Frogs tried to sit on the lead and somehow the Owls, who have been as dreadful as TCU for a while, went ahead by 28-24. Still, with two seconds left to play, the Frogs found themselves on Rice's two-yard line and had stopped the clock to talk things over. It was going to be their night, after all. Like any sensible team, TCU was going to run one of those plays that looks like this and turns out to be that, perhaps a little flip to a wide-open tight end for a touchdown. Wrong. The TCU quarterback rolled out to the right and threw a pass to six Rice defenders, who were still fighting over the ball as I strolled away.
I had only one piece of advice for F.A. Dry during my visit. Change the helmets. It had all started going downhill in 1961 when Abe Martin went to white helmets. F.A.'s teams were wearing silver helmets. The helmets were at least a part of the problem, I said. No TCU team had ever done worth a damn unless it wore black or dark purple helmets.
I forgot about the suggestion, which was only half-serious, but F.A. Dry didn't. Four weeks later, before the homecoming game against Texas Tech, Dry ordered his equipment manager, Mark Valdez, to spray-paint the helmets purple.
"Why?" Valdez asked.
"Because I've tried everything else," said the coach.
Wearing the purple helmets, the Frogs upset the Red Raiders 24-17 for their only victory of the season. It was the first homecoming game TCU had won in nine years. F.A. Dry nicely gave me the credit in his dressing-room interviews, and old friends started calling long distance to read me the newspaper stories.