But despite the look of the Frogs, Abe was an old-fashioned gentleman, a seat-of-the-pants coach who took his players into his heart and the press into his confidence. In this sense, he was the best man I ever knew.
For a writer, Abe's homespun humor was more fun than his winning teams. One day he gave up at struggling to describe Swink's broken-field running ability and said, "Aw, he's just a little old rubber-legged outfit nobody can catch." Of Bob Lilly's All-America potential, Abe said, "Well, he's a big old green pea, but he'll stand in there for you like a picket fence."
TCU's decline began when Martin, as wonderful as he was, grew weary of recruiting. When Darrell Royal went to Texas and Frank Broyles went to Arkansas, recruiting became as intense and competitive as the games.
TCU has now had five head coaches since 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 Pittman collapsed from a coronary on the sideline of 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, a former TCU and NFL star, was called in for '74. Alas, Jim wasn't cut out for a head job. He won two games in three years. Enter F.A. Dry, 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.
I had only one piece of advice for F.A. Dry during a visit to TCU last fall. Change the helmets. It had all started going downhill in 1961 when 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 anything 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 the helmets painted purple.
"Why?" he was 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.