Martin, Othol Hershel [Abe] (1908–1979)

By: Kenneth E. Austin

Type: Biography

Published: May 1, 1995

Updated: November 20, 2020

Othol (Abe) Hershel Martin, head football coach and athletic director of Texas Christian University, one of four children of Robert T. and Mollie C. Martin, was born at Jacksboro, Texas, on October 18, 1908. His father, who had been born in Alabama, rented farmland in Jack County in 1910. After graduating from Jacksboro High School, Othol was persuaded by a classmate, Mike Brubelow, to attend Texas Christian University and play football. With little money and without a scholarship, he took a job on campus chopping weeds for twenty-five cents an hour. His coach later arranged for him to be the waiter for the faculty table in the university dining hall. He received his nickname from his head coach, Francis Schmidt, who associated Othol's slow-talking, philosophic wit with a popular newspaper column of the day, "Abe Martin Says." The nickname remained a part of the Martin legend, along with the conference records he set for blocking punts and recovering fumbles. In 1929 Abe was a member of the first TCU football team to win the Southwest Conference championship. He left TCU and began a successful high school coaching career after receiving his B.A. degree in 1932. He taught at El Paso High in 1934–35 and led the team to two district championships. He moved in 1936 to Lufkin High School, where he was hired as an assistant coach but was elevated within a few days after the head coach resigned. In spite of an outstanding record of sixty-six wins, ten defeats, and four district championships, when one of his players bled to death from a ruptured spleen, Martin decided to leave coaching in 1943 and join Standard Oil. After only one year he returned to coaching at Paschal High School. He passed an army physical in 1944 after being rejected by the navy for having a minor physical defect.

In 1945 he received his M.A. degree from TCU and was hired to head the freshman football team at the university, a task he enjoyed. In 1953 he was named head coach of the TCU Horned Frogs, succeeding Leo R. (Dutch) Meyer. He held the position until a heart attack forced him out in 1966. Martin led the Horned Frogs to three Cotton Bowl victories, as well as appearances in the Sun Bowl in 1965 and the first Bluebonnet Bowl in 1959. He coached seven All-American players, including Jim Swink, who established rushing records in 1955 and 1956 and was a runner-up for the Heismann Trophy. Other All-Americans Martin coached included Hugh Pitts as a center in 1955, Norman Hamilton as a tackle in 1956, Don Floyd in 1958–9, Jack Spikes as a fullback in 1959, Bob Lilly in 1960, and Tommy Joe Crutcher as a fullback in 1963. Martin himself received acclaim when he was named Coach of the Year in 1955 and 1958. His style was distinctive. His trademark was a brown hat and a cigar, and he was known to his peers as the "Jacksboro Philosopher." In 1961 TCU faced an undefeated University of Texas team. When TCU won, Darrell Royal called the Horned Frogs "cockroaches." Martin's casual response was that he had "never received so much criticism for winning a game." Having never lost his "down-home" manner, he found recruiting small-town players easier.

In 1966 Martin assumed the position of athletic director, which he kept until his retirement in 1975. He was a member of the National Rules Committee, the executive committee of the Athletic Directors Association of America, and the extracurricular committee of the NCAA. He served as president of the American Football Coaches Association. In 1968 he was a recipient of the TCU Distinguished Alumni Award, the Amos Alonzo Stagg Award from the American Football Coaches Association, and the Distinguished American Award for the North Texas Chapter of the Football Foundation Hall of Fame. In 1972 Martin was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. He was inducted into the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics Hall of Fame in 1983, along with his rival Paul (Bear) Bryant. In 1972 Martin was elected director of First Continental Life Group, Incorporated, a company formed in 1954. Before 1944 Martin and his wife, Sally, had a son, who became a doctor. Martin died of a heart attack at his home in Fort Worth on January 11, 1979, and was buried at Laureland Cemetery.

Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.

  • Sports and Recreation
  • Sports (Football)
  • North Texas
  • Dallas/Fort Worth Region
  • Fort Worth

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Kenneth E. Austin, “Martin, Othol Hershel [Abe],” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 22, 2022,

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

May 1, 1995
November 20, 2020

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