Tuesday, December 8, 2015

#CollisionWithFame: Memphis State's Rex Dockery, December 12, 1983

“Rex Dockery, offensive coordinator Chris Faros, defensive back Charles Greenhill and pilot Glenn Jones were all killed in a plane crash in Lawrenceburg, Tenn., en route to an all-star banquet. It was the darkest moment in Tiger football annals.” 

Dockery, coming off a successful season, was going to speak at an all-star banquet.  Accompanied by Faros and Greenhill and Tigers’ booster Glenn Jones, Dockery flew in Jones’ plane to Lawrenceburg.

Rex Dockery was an all-state high school player who played at University of Tennessee and later returned as an assistant under Coach Bill Battle; one of his players was an offensive lineman named Phil Fulmer, who won a national title as coach at UT. After assisting at Georgia Tech Vanderbilt, and Texas Tech Dockery became head coach at TTU where he was 15-16-2. Returning home to Tennessee to coach Memphis State, Dockery was just 8–24–1 record, but the 1983 season had been a success with the Tigers going 6-4-1 including a 3-1 record against the SEC. He is credited with modernizing and legitimating the Memphis football program.
According to the NTSB, “During the descent at Lawrenceburg the aircraft went into clouds at 3500 Ft. At 1709 the aircraft was cleared for an inbound approach … the aircraft was being tracked on radar and the last contact was about where the procedure turn would be.”  Jones evidently missed the turn on the inbound approach, and “struck the ground about 10 nautical miles north of the airport in a near vertical descent with apparent rotation to the left.” The NTSB blamed weather conditions combined with spatial disorientation by Jones as the primary cause of the crash.
The playing surface at Liberty Bowl Stadium is named in his honor, and University of Memphis gives an annual Rex Dockery Award to the incoming Tigers’ signee who exemplifies the values of Coach Dockery.