A famous movie character once said, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you're gonna get."
That statement is certainly true when talking with one Bradley County native about his life.
A self-described “farm boy,” Bobby Scott was born during the Great Depression and grew up in the Blue Springs area of Bradley County, where he still lives today.
Although he is one of the most successful businessmen in town, the friendly, gentle, always smiling owner of Scott’s Furniture for the past 39 years has a surprising gridiron history as well, both as an extremely successful player and coach.
Without realizing it, Scott also played an important role in our community during the turbulent desegregation times of the 1960s.
“I didn’t really do anything other than treat people the same,” commented the first head football coach in Cleveland High School history.
“When College Hill (the city’s school for African-American children during segregation) closed, we welcomed their students and players to Cleveland High School. We didn’t treat them any differently than anyone else. We gave them the same (football) equipment and the same opportunity to play.
“We had some tremendous young men and women, with great parents as well. Top-notch people, who really contributed a lot to our success,” remarked the man who once pulled his senior players out of a restaurant because the African-American players were refused service.
“We would take our seniors to a bowl game each year as a reward. One year (1967) we went to New Orleans for the Sugar Bowl,” he related. “When we went into this one restaurant in Louisiana, they refused to serve some of our players, so I took the whole group out of that restaurant and found one that would serve all of us.”
“Back during that time we could see on the news every night the terrible things that were happening with integration in other areas, but we didn’t have that here,” related David Beckler, a member of the first three Blue Raider squads before going on to play for Tennessee.
“Coach Scott showed no favoritism toward anyone. He believed in a strong work ethic and expected you to deliver. He played the kids that gave the biggest effort, regardless of who they were,” he added.
“He also worked very hard to get his players college scholarships. If it wasn’t for what he did for me, I’d never been able to go to UT. It was a tremendous benefit to my family, which couldn’t afford to send me to school,” related Beckler, who is retired as vice president of labor relations for the Tennessee Valley Authority. “The work ethic I learned from Coach Scott not only got me a college education, but a successful career at TVA.”
Scott directed the Blue Raiders from 1964-76, including a run of 32 straight games without a loss.
The second of back-to-back undefeated seasons, Cleveland was crowned the UPI state champions in 1968, plus was ranked nationally.
“We got the program off to a great start. To win a state championship and be 19th in the nation in just our fourth year was unbelievable,” declared the man who was 92-31-3 at the helm of the local program, including 62 victories in the team’s first 76 games. “We were just a AA school, playing six or seven AAA teams each year.”
Along with his back-to-back undefeated teams of 1967 and ’68 winning 10 games apiece, Scott’s 1970 squad went 10-2 and advanced to face Maryville in the state championship game. The Rebels, which had future Raider head coach Benny Monroe as an assistant coach, were able to hold off Cleveland in the game played in Loudon for the title.
Before directing the first 13 Blue Raider squads, Scott had successful coaching stints in Florida and Chattanooga.
“I had a job as coach at Chattanooga City (high school) in hand after I got out of the Army, but we went to Florida to visit my wife’s (Jeannine) sister,” he explained. “I decided to check to see what was available down there. I found out Florida paid a whole lot more for coaches. I got two offers while we were there.
“We came back home and talked about it. A week later I called back down there to see if the job was still open and it was, so I took it instead of the one at Chattanooga.”
“I coached five years in Fort Pierce, Fla., before we came back toward home. I got the job as the head coach at Kirkman, down in Chattanooga. I was there for two years and helped build their football facilities before getting the Cleveland job,” related the man who in 20 years of coaching never had a losing season.
Scott was voted as the area’s Co-Coach of the Year his final season at Kirkman, plus was elected by his fellow coaches to direct the 1969 East All-Star team after the Raiders won the state title in 1968.
Before getting into the coaching profession, Scott had a very impressive playing career for the University of Tennessee as a “pulling guard” leading the way for Vol All-American tailback and Heisman Trophy runner-up Johnny Majors in the 1950s.
Recruited by the legendary Gen. Robert Neyland, Scott was a rare four-year varsity player, including two years as a starter, as well as playing significant time the other two seasons.
“Back then you got a letter from a college coach inviting you to come try out. I got one from Gen. Neyland,” Scott recalled of the coach who twice took leaves from coaching to serve in the military. “I rode the bus up there on a Saturday. There were 23 of us there to work out. After practice me and one other guy were called into the coach’s office.
“I already had offers from Clemson and Georgia Tech, plus had a workout set up for the next week with Auburn,” he recalled. “Gen. Neyland told me they’d really like to have me up there and explained all the scholarship included. I decided I liked it there and went ahead and signed.
“Afterward Gen. Neyland asked me how I had gotten there and I told him I rode the bus. He reached in his pocket, handed me a $20 bill and told me that would get me home. That was a lot of money back then (1952), so I stuck it in my pocket and hitchhiked back home.”
A few weeks later Scott started classes in summer school at UT and then made a very good first impression when the Vols began fall practice.
“I remember on the first day, Gen. Neyland had the freshmen offensive linemen go against the No. 1 defense. On the first play of practice, I put my hand on the ground, looked over and there was big Doug Adkins (a 6-foot-8, 285-pound defensive end who starred for the Vols’ 1951 national champion team, and has been inducted into both the NFL and College halls of fame),” explained Scott, who stood 6-foot and 205 pounds. “I was shaking like a leaf, but on the snap I was able to get a good block on him and moved him out of the play.
“When we went in after practice to get our uniforms, the varsity got orange and the freshmen got white ones. They threw me an orange one. I threw it back and said I was just a freshman. They checked their list, threw it back to me and told me I was on the varsity team.”
Of the 105 freshmen who started out with the Vols that fall, Scott was one of only seven to still be on the squad for the final game of their senior year. He was the only one to have played varsity all four years.
A “pulling guard” in the old “single-wing” offense, Scott shared playing time his first season.
“We had John Mickels, an All-American, starting on one side. Me and John Powell alternated at the other guard that year,” he explained. He started his sophomore and junior seasons, but ankle injuries cost him playing time his senior season
“My junior year I went both ways, playing left defensive end as well,” Scott related. “In the game against Georgia Tech, I played 59 (of the 60) minutes.”
Scott had a tryout set up with the Baltimore Colts after his playing days as a Vol, but was drafted into the Army before that could happen.
“It was during the Korean War and they were drafting 21-year-olds,” he stated. Scott served six months and then volunteered for the National Guard to finish out his military commitment.
Before playing in Knoxville, Scott was a standout player at Bradley Central High School.
Playing for Coach Wendell Sullivan, Scott had to walk or hitchhike the eight miles home after practice or games each day.
“I remember a game we played up at Spring City, which was coached by Bill Smith, who eventually came to Bradley. When we went out for the game, the hogs had dug holes in the field, so the game was delayed while they tried to level them out,” he recalled.
“They had won 26 games in a row and we beat them that night. We got back to the school (Bradley) after midnight and I didn’t have a ride, so I had to walk home in the dark on that gravel road.”
Scott’s desire and dedication, coupled with the principles he learned from Neyland and legendary Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant benefited him both on the field and in business.
“One of the guys I played with at Tennessee with was on the staff down at Alabama. He got me permission to come watch some of Coach Bryant’s practices,” Scott related.
“Coach Bryant once told me, he wasn’t the smartest guy around, but he knew enough to surround himself with smart people. I’ve done that in coaching and in business.”
“We had some great men who helped me coach at Cleveland and get the program going. Men like Jim Woodall, Derrick Weatherford, Brian Draper, Louie Alford, Bill Talley and others,” he praised.
When he decided it was time to get out of coaching, Scott got a boost from an old colleague.
“John Swafford was a head coach in McMinn County and had applied for the Cleveland job at the same time I did. I got the head coaching job and they hired him as an assistant and had him coach the girls basketball team (at Arnold in 1964-65).”
“He left after a year and took a coaching job just across the (Alabama) state line from South Pittsburg, which is where he was from. He got into the furniture business on the side.”
“He invited me over to see his store and offered to get a building in Cleveland and us go ‘halfers,’” Scott related. “I didn’t do it then, but a little later he called me again. We met at the restaurant on the hill (on Pain Gap Hill just past the Scott’s Furniture store location on South Lee Highway).”
“He pointed down to this piece of property that was being leveled at the time and said he could get it at a good price so we could put up a building. By that time I was ready to get out of coaching, so I agreed and we went ‘halfers.’”
“We started the building in June and I told the principal and superintendent I was going to be leaving,” Scott explained. “I told them I could stay through the season or leave now (in the summer). The board asked me to stay. I did and we had a pretty good year (9-3).”
“We played our final game (a second round playoff game against Maryville in November 1976) on a Friday night. The next morning, I was down here moving furniture into this building.”
“I’ve been here 39 years since. He (Swafford) and I were partners for 20 years and then his health started going bad. I had already bought his half of the building so we divided up the rest. I changed the name then (to Scott’s Furniture).”
“It was a great change for me,” Scott declared. “Like I did in football, I’ve surrounded myself with great people that do a tremendous job and have really helped us build this business.”
The 81-year-old is at the family business on a daily basis, except when there’s hay to be cut.
“It’s like therapy to him. He drives that big old truck and enjoys himself,” expressed Jeannine, his bride of 57 years.
It just goes to prove the old saying, “You can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.”
Of course in Scott’s case the majority of his life he has lived in that same Blue Springs community, where his grandfather purchased the family farm in 1907.