Dockery legacy key part of Bear history

By GARY OWNBEY Bradley Central Sports Historian
Posted 10/28/16

Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a weekly series celebrating Bradley Central High School’s centennial football season. The following is an edited excerpt from the upcoming “100 Seasons of …

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Dockery legacy key part of Bear history


Editor’s note: This is the 11th in a weekly series celebrating Bradley Central High School’s centennial football season. The following is an edited excerpt from the upcoming “100 Seasons of Black & Gold Glory” book by Gary Ownbey. It is due to be published in December.

While there have been many “families” that have played important roles in Bradley Central High School’s athletic programs, one of the most prominent mentioned in Bear Nation is that of the Dockerys.

Little did John “Red” Dockery know when entered Bradley in the mid-1930s that he would leave a lasting legacy that still runs strong today.

John was born in the area of Hanging Dog, N.C., and tragically lost his father to a logging accident when he was only two years old.

His family moved to the Polk County area to live with other family members during these tragic times.

“Red” became interested in sports as a young man and played football for the Polk County Wildcats as a freshman.

Times continued to remain tough financially for the Dockery family and subsequently they moved to Bradley County to a family farm owned by his uncle. Today we know that area as Dockery Subdivision in south Cleveland.

Living in Cleveland, “Red” began to attend high school at Bradley Central and played football there, again as a freshman, repeating his freshman year from Polk County. There were no transfer or age limitation rules or policies in place in those days.

A three-sport athlete, “Red” went on to play some professional baseball for the Detroit Tigers organization before attending and playing football for Milligan College.

Returning to Cleveland after college, “Red” served as Bradley County Trustee for 16 years (1966-92) for part of his adult life and was always looking for ways to help his fellow man.

He enjoyed a long and fruitful life before passing away at the age of 95 in 2013. He and his wife, Jeanette (Gibson), raised two children who would become very prominent members of the community.

Continuing with the family legacy of serving the community, daughter Pam played basketball for legendary Bearette coach Jim Smiddy before graduating in 1961.

She married classmate Bill Mull who also played for the Bear football team.

Like her dad, Pam chose a career as a civil servant, running for and becoming the local Circuit Court Clerk for 16 years (1966-82).

She and Bill had one son, Johnny, and a daughter Tracy (Maples).

Like his grandfather and father before him, Johnny played football for the Bears in the late 1970s before graduating in 1980.

After college, Johnny came back to BCHS and served as an assistant football coach from 1987-1997, and is currently employed at the Bradley County Schools Central Office as the Energy and Safety Supervisor.

The other child of “Red” and Jeanette, was John “Rex” Dockery, was a two-sport standout, rising to prominence at Bradley Central as a member of the unbeaten 1959 football team.

The younger Dockery played alongside such players as Co-Captains Buddy Rodgers and Charlie Snyder plus Bear standouts Louie Alford, Richard Davenport, William Senters, Ernie Droke, Jerry Lyles and a very young and green sophomore named Steve Sloan. Darnell Baggett was another member of that team and would later become an assistant coach at Bradley Central.

The 1959 team finished second in the state behind Kingsport Dobyns-Bennett in the AP sportswriters poll at the end of the season by a slim 213-212 margin in the final vote.

The 1959 team is one of the top teams of all-time to wear the Black and Gold.

A 1960 graduate from Bradley, “Rex” would later gain fame and glory in the coaching ranks.

After playing offensive line for the University of Tennessee before graduating in 1965, “Rex” became the head coach at Harriman High School for the 1966 and 1967 seasons with a record of 15-6.

He then moved to Morristown-East, where the Hurricanes in two seasons were 19-2-2 and claimed the very first TSSAA Class AAA championship in 1969.

“Rex” then returned to UT for a stint as an assistant coach under former Vol head coach Bill Battle.

He later moved to Georgia Tech as offensive line coach under new Yellow Jacket offensive coordinator, long-time friend and former Bear teammate Steve Sloan (BCHS Class of 1962).

When Sloan was hired as the youngest head coach in the nation, Dockery moved to Nashville with him to take over the Vanderbilt program.

Dockery would be Sloan’s offensive coordinator and help led the Commodores to their first bowl game in 20 years.

Sloan then moved west to Texas Tech and took Dockery along with him as offensive coordinator, as well as defensive coordinator Bill Parcells, an NFL Hall of Fame coach, Romeo Crennel, current Houston Texans defensive coordinator and former NFL head coach, plus the legendary Bill Talley.

When Sloan left Lubbock to return to the SEC, taking over the Ole Miss program, Dockery became the head coach at Texas Tech, being named the Southwest Conference Coach of the Year in 1977.

After three seasons as the Red Raiders head coach, Dockery moved closer to home, taking over the Memphis State University program.

He served in that position for three seasons before he perished, along with two other passengers and the pilot, in a Dec. 12, 1983, plane crash while flying to Lawrenceburg, Tenn., for a football banquet announcing the Player of the Year, where Dockery was to be the keynote speaker.

When told of the tragedy, Sloan was quoted as saying, “I have just lost my best friend. He had the most contagious personality I’ve ever experienced. He enjoyed living and was just plain fun to be around. The man did not have an enemy, only friends. Friends who know their loss today is certainly the Lord’s gain.”

With his winning personality and Christian morals, Dockery was a recruiting guru for the Tigers.

After taking over the lowly Tiger program, Dockery’s first two teams both went 1-10, the second being decimated by injuries.

However, Dockery had the “Eye of the Tiger” and never lost sight of his goal of building a successful football program at a major school.

His recruiting efforts began to show the success he expected as Memphis State rose to 6-4-1 in his third year, clinching a bowl game for the first time in nine seasons.

He was named the Metro Conference Coach of the Year.

The field at the Liberty Bowl Stadium in Memphis is named in Dockery’s memory.

Former Bradley teammate and Bear state championship coach Louie Alford (BCHS Class of 1960) coached alongside Dockery at Memphis State. Alford is currently the chairman of the Bradley County Commission.

There are no answers to many of life’s questions when a person such as “Rex” is snatched away in an untimely and shocking manner, just as he was beginning to reach the prime of his life. His great story is just one of many in the legacy that is Bradley Central.


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