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29 years ago today - December 12, 1983 - Printable Version

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29 years ago today - December 12, 1983 - tigerjeb - 12-11-2012 09:05 PM

On December 12, 1983, one week after being named Metro Conference Coach of the year, Rex Dockery, assistant coach Chris Faros, freshman defensive back Charles Greenhill and Highland Hundred member Glen Jones were killed in an airplane crash while enroute to attend the Lawrenceburg, Tennessee Quarterback Club Awards Banquet.

Dockery was brought to Memphis State by former President Thomas Carpenter in 1980 from Texas Tech University, where he was named the 1978 Southwest Conference Coach of the Year by AP and UPI and Senior College Coach of the Year and American Football Coaches District VII Coach of the Year. After consecutive 1-10 seasons, the 1983 squad compiled a 6-4-1 record including wins over Mississippi, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Louisville. After the victory at Louisville to end the season, Dockery kept a season long promise and lead the entire coaching staff in gasser drills on the ice covered Astroturf at Cardinal stadium. After the 1983 season, Memphis State was named second most improved team in the nation by the NCAA. The season prior to Dockery's arrival, the Tigers averaged 23,850 per game. The Tigers averaged 36,734 in 1983, which led the nation in increased attendance.

Dockery turned on the city with his determination, personality and perseverance, and did what many people said was impossible, build a wall around the city. Charles Greenhill was the best example of that. Greenhill was considered one of the finest players to ever come out of Memphis. He was named the 1982 top high school player in the state. He was 1st team Associated Press and UPI All State selection, was voted Mr. Tennessee football, named the Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club Player of the Year, was named to the 1982 Addidas All - American Team and named to the top 25 high school players in the country by the Memphis Press Scimitar. His arrival was a signal to local players that a new day had arrived. Said George Lapides, then editor of the Press Scimitar "Rex was about to turn a 'have not' into a have. He was in the process of beating the odds.



Dockery was survived by his wife Wallene, who compiled a book of antedotes about her husband entitled "Only as One - The Words and Wisdom of Rex Dockery" in 1985 and his sons Trey and Dee.

Chris Faros was promoted to Offensive Coordinator for the 1983 season after spending the previous two seasons as the Tigers defensive secondary coach. He was survived by his wife Pam and children Brian, Jill and Angie.

Rex Dockery Feb 7, 1942 - Dec 12, 1983
Chris Faros Aug 9, 1952 - Dec 12, 1983
Charles Greenhill Dec 31, 1964 - Dec 12, 1983
Glenn Jones Nov 10, 1935 - Dec 12,1983

The Commercial Appeal
THE MOMENT, THE MAN - DEC. 12, 1983 - THE DEATH OF REX DOCKERY

Date: December 12, 2003
Section: News
Page: A1
Source: Story by Zack McMillin
Edition: Final

A long, long time ago
I can still remember how
That music used to make me smile
And I knew if I had my chance
That I could make those people dance
And maybe they'd be happy for a while


The chant began to build, and the players began clapping and a football team drunk on the giddiness that comes with newfound winning circled round their coach.

Memphis State had just thumped old rival Louisville, 45-7, and that meant a 6-4-1 record for the 1983 squad. It meant the first winning season in six years and vindicated their coach for coming from Texas Tech, showed he wasn't loony for talking about chasing national titles even during a 17-game losing streak.

It also meant that coach, Rex Dockery, had a promise to keep, right there in Louisville, right there on the icy turf.

"County Fair! County Fair! County Fair!" came the cry, and pretty soon Rozelle Clayton was out in front, pumping his fists and doing a jig and Dockery's upside-down smile grew even wider.

And next thing they knew, their coach was down and back up, down and back up and flopping and rolling through the grass drills they called the County Fair.

When he finished, Clayton lifted Dockery in a bearhug and the players carried him to the cheers of fans who had traveled up for the Tigers' Thanksgiving Day finale.

Rex's wife, Wallene, marveled at the joy her husband had created. "It was an incredible moment," she says.



It has been 20 years since Rex Dockery had folks in this city believing the football program was on the verge of great things, and since his untimely death, the program has struggled to regain that optimism. The 2003 Tiger football team is 8-4, headed to the program's first bowl game since 1971 and returning almost all of their key players next season.

Like Tommy West, the team's current coach, Dockery played at Tennessee, and, like West, used his disarming personality to charm the city and tap into Memphis's fertile recruiting market.

"It was very similar to the feeling going on here right now,'' says Bob Winn, the football team's media relations director since 1976. "It was euphoria and a feeling that, 'Hey, we've turned the corner and this is the guy to take us to the promised land.'"

That was the feeling on Dec. 12, 1983, when Rex prepared to leave his Germantown home. He teased his 8-year-old son, Dee, making him surrender a kiss goodbye before catching the school bus, and then Wallene recalls Rex saying he hadn't decided whether to drive to that night's Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club meeting in Middle Tennessee or fly in a booster's private plane.

"A voice in the back of my head said, 'Wallene, you'll never see him again,'" she says. "But, you know, we were in a hurry, both of us trying to get to work, and it's one of those things you put out of your mind."

Winn remembers seeing Dockery later that morning and hearing about the latest recruiting victory. Everything seemed right in the world of Rex Dockery, and he was looking forward to giving his speech in Lawrenceburg.

''You start getting that taste of winning, and the atmosphere changes,'' says Danny Sparkman, the quarterback in 1983. ''The water tastes better. The air smells fresher."

But February made me shiver
With every paper I'd deliver
Bad news on the doorstep
I couldn't take one more step


It would be one of the coldest Decembers ever in Memphis, but on Dec. 12, it was merely overcast and in the low 40s when Glenn Jones lifted his Piper Seneca six-seater into the sky.

The flight plan listed five passengers for the trip to Lawrenceburg.

Jones, the pilot, was a devoted member of the Highland Hundred, the football booster club, and he owned a local oil company.

Charles Greenhill, a star freshman defensive back for the Tigers, had won the club's state player of the year award in 1982, as a senior at Frayser High. Many considered him one of the best athletes to come through the city's high school ranks, a four-sport star who, at 18, already possessed NFL size and speed.

Chris Faros, the 31-year-old offensive coordinator, had seen the Tigers put 37 points on Ole Miss and 45 on Louisville and watched Danny Sparkman become one of the best passers in school history.

Jeff Womack, a Tiger running back and Lawrenceburg's 1981 state player of the year, had planned to take the flight, but he didn't like the look of the clouds. Even though it meant a chance to see folks close to home - Womack was from McMinnville - he decided to stay in Memphis.

But clouds never did much to discourage Rex Dockery, the 41-year-old Tiger coach who looked like Huck Finn, collected friends like Will Rogers and applied Norman Vincent Peale's philosophy to everything he did.

"If you get up every mornin','' he would tell people in his East Tennessee twang, "smile until 10 a.m., and believe good things are gonna happen, you'll be surprised how well your day'll go."

To live with Rex, then, was to always look for the positive, and so when Wallene carried Dee home from basketball practice, she'd forgotten about the dread feeling that hit her that morning. Dee looked forward to watching the "Monday Night Football" game between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Long before cell phones and the Internet had transformed relationships into a series of hourly updates, they had no way of contacting Rex, no way of knowing he had not yet arrived at the Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club.

Fred Pancoast, the Tiger football coach who logged winning seasons in the early '70s, was the president of the club and had talked to Dockery earlier in the day. Maybe misty weather and the low ceiling of clouds had delayed his keynote speaker.

About 10 miles outside Lawrenceburg, where folks live among the rolling farmland, many residents heard the dull drone of a plane's engine, flying low.

It brought many outside their homes, and they saw a small blue-and-white plane, careening nose first through the sky before crashing hard into a clearing, not far from the woods.

James Earl Estes and his wife ran to the scene. "Four bodies is all we saw," Estes would later tell a reporter.

And no movement.

It was about a half-hour after sunset, at 5:25 p.m., when the first call came to the Lawrence County Sheriff's Department.

From there, word spread, first to Nashville's news organizations and then to Memphis.

Jeff Walker, a lineman who would play seven seasons in the NFL, was at Gold's Gym in Eastgate when he found out. He drove so fast back to campus that a policeman pulled him over.

"I said, 'It's an emergency,' and then I began to get emotional," Walker says.

The policeman gave Walker an escort back to campus.

"There were three or four hundred people already out in the parking lot," Walker says. "It was just an unbelievable scene. Lots of emotions. Lots of crying."

Across town, the doorbell rang and a tow-headed 8-year-old boy got up from watching "Monday Night Football" to answer the door.

But Dee Dockery had no idea why two Germantown policemen stood on the front porch.

His mother, coming down the stairs, saw them, and remembered her premonition.

"She knew right away, something had happened," says Dee, who is now a doctor in Birmingham.

The couple's other son, Trey, lived in the dorms on campus and was a team manager. By the time he got to the house, it was filled with people.

Dee remembers falling to sleep in his parents' bedroom, next to his mother, with a dozen or so people still in the room.

"What about Dee?" he recalls hearing someone say. "He's so young."

Back at the campus, a priest, Monsignor Paul Clunan, tried to help with the grief.

"It was the day time stopped," says Greg Sanders, a Memphis policeman who then was a senior defensive back. "You could not believe it. It was like losing your father or your brother."

By that weekend, the temperature in Memphis hit 20, and two weeks later, the Mississippi River had turned into a flotilla of ice.

On Dec. 25, the thermometer hit zero. In the recorded history of Memphis, there has never been a colder Christmas Day.

I can't remember if I cried
When I read about his widowed bride
But something touched me deep inside
The day the music died.


To this day, Bob Winn has difficulty recalling the joy that filled so much of the 1983 season. A tragic coda taints the victory over Ole Miss, the winning record, the Thanksgiving celebration at Louisville.

A few thousand people attended the memorial service at the Mid-South Coliseum, and the team took a bus to Cleveland, Tenn., to help bury their coach.

Frayser High hosted Greenhill's funeral, Faros was returned to his hometown of Kansas City and Jones was laid to rest in Memphis. It is still unclear why the plane crashed.

Tiger athletic director Charles Cavagnaro settled on two finalists to replace Dockery: Mack Brown of Appalachian State and Rey Dempsey of Southern Illinois.

He chose Dempsey, who took the Dockery talent to a 5-1-1 start in 1984 before dissension and mistrust led to a four-game losing streak. Dempsey would win only two of his final 15 games before resigning in 1985.

Brown is now the coach at the University of Texas.

For Tiger fans, it is hard not to wonder what might have been.

Walker recalls a conversation he had with Florida State coach Bobby Bowden over the summer while Bowden was watching his son, Dallas, at a quarterback camp.

"If Rex hadn't had that tragic accident," Bowden told Walker, "y'all could've been on the same pattern we were on."

Instead, the Tigers defined mediocrity over the next 19 seasons, with moments of joy accompanying wins over a Florida here or an Alabama there. Even in 1996, when the Tigers beat Tennessee, it was just one of four wins.

That is why 2003 feels so different for Tiger fans, because it has been 20 years since winning seemed not only possible but probable, 20 years since, as Winn puts it, "There's light at the end of the tunnel and we know it's not a train."

For Rex's widow, Wallene, this winning season seems to evoke even more memories as she and her family remember the plane crash. She and her husband of three years, Tommy Leek, are in Cleveland, Tenn., today, and they will visit Rex's grave with his father, John, and sister, Pam.

Wallene works for New York Life, selling insurance, among other things, and, when she's back in town, she hears many Tiger fans saying the same thing.

Tommy West sure reminds them of Rex Dockery.

"People say it's like having Rex back again," Wallene says. "It makes me feel good to hear people say that."

Wallene attended the Tigers' victory over East Carolina on Nov. 1, and sent West an E-mail he later posted in the Tigers' new locker room.

As you probably know, Rex's last season 20 years ago in 1983 was 6-4-1 . . . and no coach at the U of M has matched that record since. I just wanted you to know that I can't think of anything that would please me more than you, your staff and your 2003 Tigers beating that record and going to a bowl game . . .

It has taken 20 years, but the Tigers are finally fulfilling the promise that an eager coach from East Tennessee always predicted for them.

It's enough to make you wake up smiling





RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - madtiger - 12-11-2012 09:11 PM

Thanks for sharing Jeb.

I guess I really need to get the duster out in here.


Re: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - 72Tiger - 12-11-2012 09:12 PM

What an awful day that was.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - TigerBo - 12-11-2012 09:13 PM

Thanks for the annual reminder Jeb..


29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - uofmbrad - 12-11-2012 09:18 PM

In a somber way, I look forward to reading this post every December, sort of like the Walter Stewart column they run in the CA on Christmas Day.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - Cletus - 12-11-2012 09:22 PM

Thanks Jeb. But all of the videos are marked "This Video is Private" and won't play.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - boss man - 12-11-2012 09:24 PM

Bowden is exactly right.

Dockery's untimely death threw TIGER football into a tailspin that took 20 years to overcome.

I am convinced that had Dockery not been killed and stayed on as the FB coach that MEMPHIS would have been in the Big East or some conference in the mid 90's.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - U of M/ND fan - 12-11-2012 09:29 PM

Thanks for the reminder Jeb.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - tigerjeb - 12-11-2012 09:35 PM

(12-11-2012 09:22 PM)Cletus Wrote:  Thanks Jeb. But all of the videos are marked "This Video is Private" and won't play.

i unlocked those for this. should play now.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - BERT56 - 12-11-2012 10:31 PM

God bless his family and never forget!!


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - SNF6 - 12-11-2012 10:51 PM

It was front page news on the Los Angeles Times. The coach that recruited me, who I wanted to play for, had died. I will never forget my dad calling up to me in my bedroom upstairs. I came down and he showed me the front page. It was like a bad dream.

I also remember eventually coming to Memphis and moving into South Hall. The team was ................not right. Never was after that.

It was such a talented team, so many great players, they just lost something. That team, truly could have put Memphis Football on the map if Coach Dockery was the coach. Would have started a nice run of very dominating Memphis teams.

I also remember the guys on the team telling me about Charles Greenhill....how great he was. I had the chance to view film of him, what a beautiful athlete, perhaps one of the best to ever play for Memphis. Just sad.

But this tragedy should always be remembered by the Tiger faithful, and those that were lost, never forgotten.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - TigerSeth - 12-11-2012 11:30 PM

(12-11-2012 10:51 PM)SNF6 Wrote:  It was front page news on the Los Angeles Times. The coach that recruited me, who I wanted to play for, had died. I will never forget my dad calling up to me in my bedroom upstairs. I came down and he showed me the front page. It was like a bad dream.

I also remember eventually coming to Memphis and moving into South Hall. The team was ................not right. Never was after that.

It was such a talented team, so many great players, they just lost something. That team, truly could have put Memphis Football on the map if Coach Dockery was the coach. Would have started a nice run of very dominating Memphis teams.

I also remember the guys on the team telling me about Charles Greenhill....how great he was. I had the chance to view film of him, what a beautiful athlete, perhaps one of the best to ever play for Memphis. Just sad.

But this tragedy should always be remembered by the Tiger faithful, and those that were lost, never forgotten.

04-cheers


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - BigTigerMike - 12-11-2012 11:36 PM

Rex Dockery death set the football program back 20 years


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - fsquid - 12-11-2012 11:38 PM

There once was a guy who posted on here named Jeb.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - KRB - 12-11-2012 11:40 PM

Thanks again Jeb.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - GringoStarr - 12-11-2012 11:49 PM

Still painful. So much promise.

Charles Greenhill could have gone anywhere. Came to Memphis on back to back 1-10 seasons. I'd say if there is a bronze anything done it should be of him.


RE: 29 years ago - December 12, 1983 - msu65 - 12-12-2012 12:10 AM

Painful to see that video of Kurt Crain as well. After Rex's death, Kurt transferred to Auburn and became the Auburns 2nd all time leading tackler and an All SEC linebacker. After a battle with cancer Kurt took his own life last year.


Rex Dockery ...29 years ago today - missjtiger - 12-12-2012 06:33 AM

[Image: RexDockery.jpg]


LAWRENCEBURG, Tenn., Dec. 12,1983— Rex Dockery, the head football coach at Memphis State University, and three others were killed tonight when their twin-engine plane crashed about 10 miles north of Lawrenceburg, authorities said.

Dockery, 41 years old; Christopher D. Faros, 31, the team's offensive coordinator, and Charles Greenhill, a freshman running back, were killed when the Piper Seneca plane crashed at about 5:30 P.M., about one mile west of State Highway 43, according to Howard Goode, a dispatcher for the Lawrence County sheriff's office.

The pilot, Glenn W. Jones, also was killed, Mr. Goode said.

The passengers had left Memphis to attend the the annual awards banquet of the Lawrenceburg Quarterback Club, where Dockery was scheduled as a guest speaker.

The aircraft, flying through rain and fog, apparently took a nose dive and crashed at the edge of a wooded area, said Sheriff Thomas Pyrdrum of Lawrence County. Lawrenceburg is about 60 miles south of downtown Nashville.

RIP Rex.


RE: 29 years ago today - December 12, 1983 - Tiger46 - 12-12-2012 09:41 AM

That is so vivid in my memory. My father in law called me about 10pm to ask me if I had heard. Other than a Marshall or Wichita State event, that is about the worst thing a program can endure.

#Forward Tigers!


RE: 29 years ago today - December 12, 1983 - mem-x - 12-12-2012 10:51 AM

Heady times ... horribly sad times.