Voices of Lee entertained about 100 guests who wished Dale and Richie Hughes well on their $10 million investment.
Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis said the community is always proud when a new company announces a new location in the county.
“We’re also equally proud when an existing industry expands and I want you to know Bradley County is also very proud when a new business opens in this community, and especially proud when an existing business in our community decides not only to expand, but in this case, invest once again in another business,” he said.
Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland did not waste the opportunity to take some good-humored jabs at Dale Hughes, who is a very close and dear friend.
“It’s good to have another low-end facility in Cleveland that meets the needs of a lot folks,” the mayor said. But turning serious, Rowland continued, “Several reasons will contribute to the success of this business, but I think most of all, it will be the prayers that went into it. When it’s family operated by a family like the Hughes family, it has to be successful.
“When you come here you get the warm feeling that you are welcome. That sends a strong message to visitors in our community that it’s a good place to visit and even more so, a good place to live. We need quality places like this to make people feel like Cleveland and Bradley County are the best places in the world, but you all know that.”
Rowland took advantage of the moment to throw a barb in the direction of Bradley County Commission Chair Louie Alford, who is a former Bradley Central High School football coach.
“And Dale, when you were talking about the outstanding coach over here, Louie was beaming before he finally got the message,” Rowland quipped.
Fulmer, 61, was head football coach at the University of Tennessee from 1992 through 2008. His teams won 152 wins against 52 losses. He was fired at the end of 2008 with a 5-7 record. He is best known for coaching the Volunteers in the first-ever BCS National Championship Game in 1998, defeating Florida State University. He was the Volunteers’ 20th head football coach.
Fulmer said he tried retirement for about two months after his coaching career, but that’s not the way his DNA is wired. He likes to be active and went into broadcasting for a couple of years and stepping out on the speaker’s circuit. Three years ago, he took a partnership with one of his former players to form BPV Capital Management, a Knoxville investment firm.
“I’m still very, very busy, but also have a chance to enjoy my children and grandchildren,” he said.
Four years after his departure from football, Fulmer is still a popular figure in Tennessee.
“That kind of goes with the territory of being a head coach at a major university and having as much success as we had, your face is on television, you’re all over the state, Southeast and really, all over the nation seeing people,” he said. “Tennessee people have been wonderful to me everywhere I’ve been. I’m a native Tennessean. I played at Tennessee. I’ll always support Tennessee and I think that gives people a good feeling as well.”
He said expansion of the Southeastern Conference was probably inevitable. Going into Texas is a big deal because of the popularity of football and the large number of potential recruits in that state. It remains to be seen if it will hurt attendance.
“Television is affecting crowds everywhere these days,” he said. “The big games sell out but oftentimes the smaller or lesser games might not in the big stadiums, particularly if the season is not going well. But television dollars is what this is all about.”
The coach said bringing Missouri into the mix adds a new dimension because of St. Louis and a geographic rivalry with Arkansas. Texas A&M is a good fit because it is in Texas and that state’s proximity to Louisiana.
He sees it as a difficult task not to break up traditional rivalries such as Tennessee and Alabama or Auburn and Georgia.
“If they stay at eight conference games it will be less difficult but if they go to nine, which is more of a true champion setting, some of those rivalries might be lost,” he said.
He sees increasing the size of scholarships, but doesn’t see paying college athletes a stipend.
Players in small conferences will still have a good chance of reaching the professional level even with the expansion and realignment of conferences. He said there are too many combines and workouts for standout athletes to be overlooked.
“If you’re a good player, they are going to find you,” he said. “The NFL is full of Division II and Division III players.”
Finally, he said he and coach Derek Dooley have a good relationship and Fulmer assists him all he can when he is asked.
“He’s been placed in a very difficult situation trying to come through two coaching changes and I’m hopeful he gets it done,” Fulmer said. “But he’s like all of us, he’s got to prove himself, but two years is certainly not enough time (to prove himself). He needs to show progress and I’m sure he will.”