John Adams: It may turn heads, but Nick Saban's speaking gig in Athens (Tenn.) a hot ticket

John Adams
Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks during a BCS National Championship college football game news conference Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Alabama defeated Notre Dame 42-14 Monday night to win the national championship. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Alabama head coach Nick Saban speaks during a BCS National Championship college football game news conference Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013, in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla. Alabama defeated Notre Dame 42-14 Monday night to win the national championship. (AP Photo/Morry Gash)

Rob Preston wasn’t trying to inflame the passions of football fans when he sought a speaker for the annual Athens Chamber of Commerce dinner this summer. He just wanted a well known speaker who would draw a crowd.

That’s nothing new. As president of the chamber, he has been selecting speakers for six years. His track record is impressive.

Preston’s first speaker was South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, whose family lived in Athens for a couple of years when Spurrier was a kid. Another speaker was Pete Rose, who was both entertaining and accommodating, according to Preston. He said Rose signed autographs for two hours after the dinner.

Kirk Cameron, a Christian evangelist and former star of “Growing Pains,” drew the biggest crowd (1,200) when he spoke two years ago.

Cameron has strong views and isn’t afraid to express them. But he isn’t as controversial in Tennessee as the speaker Preston secured for this June.

Preston first contacted Nick Saban’s people last spring. It wasn’t until two months ago that a date was firmed up. The Alabama football coach agreed to speak June 11.

What a catch, huh? Unlike Rose, Saban has a full-time job, which he takes rather seriously. Since he is so obsessive about winning national championships, he doesn’t have much time for speaking engagements unless they involve accepting Waterford Crystal footballs.

Nonetheless, his busy schedule didn’t prevent him from carving out an hour or so for the Athens Chamber of Commerce. Preston was elated.

But I suspected others might not be as excited about Preston’s big get. So I asked if he had received death threats.

“Close, but not quite,” he said.

I don’t know if he was kidding.

But I do know SEC fans often don’t have a sense of humor when it comes to their football allegiance. After three consecutive losing seasons and six consecutive losses to Saban’s Alabama teams, UT fans are a tad more sensitive than most.

Preston says he roots for Tennessee himself. And he doesn’t view this as an act of betrayal.

“It has nothing to do with Alabama,” he said. “Saban (usually) speaks very little about football.”

He speaks more about leadership, Preston said.

Based on some of Preston’s emails, that won’t appease all UT fans.

“You CANNOT be so naive as to think Saban has agreed (to speak) out of the goodness of his heart,” one Tennessee fan emailed Preston. “This shrewd person is doing it to benefit recruiting. PERIOD. Don’t for a second think differently, or you are a fool.

“So, on behalf of the vast number of TN fans, thank you for doing your part in helping Saban and the hated AL program. I can only hope that people are not dumb enough to support your event.”

Maybe the fan would have felt better if Preston had told him about the 2012 dinner. The Athens chamber honored UT’s 1998 national championship team and featured coach Phillip Fulmer and players Al Wilson and Peerless Price as speakers. They drew a crowd of 276.

So far, 981 tickets have been sold for this year’s dinner.

John Adams is a senior columnist. He may be reached at 865-342-6284 or adamsj@knoxnews.com. Follow him at http://twitter.com/johnadamskns.

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Comments » 69

SeaBassHauling writes:

Jerk.....and SAban....! Bama fans can support him all they want...because they don't care about morals that much...As long as they win they would kiss a rattle snake on the mouth...! I'm so glad Kiffin got gone and now we have a man who gets it in Tennessee...! J. A. Why don't you and Peston jump on the plan with the snake charmer and head back back to loserrrrville....!

vut5686#1405392 writes:

Made up news about nothing...other than the good fortune for the folks in Athens. (My hometown of long ago.) Any city in any state in the union should welcome the coach of a national championship team; to throw stones and to hiss "traitors" is just inferiorty and short sightedness. When our coach wins one, he or she will be sought after far and wide. And will make the journey(s) when practical. In those circumstances, we would be proud and would just consider it the good fortune for those in the audience....in whatever state.

Why not check the record: in what states did Pat Summitt visit after NC years? Did we (then) welcome the disrespect of the natives so lucky as to share some of her time?

Guess Adams woke up and noticed a hot one on some internet site.

ETownVol writes:

Damn! Didn't realize this was an Adams article or I wouldn't have read it. The usual "kick 'em when their down" Adams article. PLEASE fire this a-hole!

Ayres_Hall writes:

Who is Narles Laben?

rockypop writes:

The simple truth is that if UT had its act together, then Knute Rockne could come to Athens with little or no repercussions from UT fans. As it is, any coach in the country could come there and incite the UT fan base.

I own a company whose clients are constantly being pursued by our competitors. And frankly, if we're not doing a good job taking care of them, then they're going to be looking. Same deal with UT.

tovolny writes:

What was the purpose of this article? Is it not obvious why J.A. would enjoy expounding on this? I suppose the information was true. Just looks to me like somebody has a knack for getting interesting speakers. I am actually considering going. After all folks, Saban has PUMPED the SEC up. Oscar ( or is it Urban) Myers did some inflating for a while. Fulmer kept the SEC pumped until he lost his wind. Spurrier, still pumping away, always has an ample air supply. Its a “free country”...let'm speak.

But, let me say this to John Adams: Frankly, John, I don't give a SLAM.

VFL-az writes:

#1. Adams please go away
#2. Maybe more people would attend the event, if they knew where Athens was. (Or, even cared.)

andrews#1389072 writes:

I too was born in Athens and am down there with some regularity.Some folks look at it as giving Nick Saben what amounts to a free recruiting visit in South East Tennessee and has really created a split in some factions!

JimmyJoe writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

VolMoment writes:

A long time Vol fan here: It wouldn't make any difference if we had won the National Championship three years in a row I would not like Satan Saban speaking at the dinner or Knute Rockne. Both of them are doing it for recruiting purposes. John Adams has been stealing from KNS for a long time and they don't fire him.

keepitreal4vols writes:

"Preston says he roots for Tennessee himself. And he doesn’t view this as an act of betrayal."
Uhhhh, ok dude. Whatever makes you feel better.

JimmyJoe writes:

in response to vut5686#1405392:

Made up news about nothing...other than the good fortune for the folks in Athens. (My hometown of long ago.) Any city in any state in the union should welcome the coach of a national championship team; to throw stones and to hiss "traitors" is just inferiorty and short sightedness. When our coach wins one, he or she will be sought after far and wide. And will make the journey(s) when practical. In those circumstances, we would be proud and would just consider it the good fortune for those in the audience....in whatever state.

Why not check the record: in what states did Pat Summitt visit after NC years? Did we (then) welcome the disrespect of the natives so lucky as to share some of her time?

Guess Adams woke up and noticed a hot one on some internet site.

I'll bet Pat never was invited to speak in Bridgeport, Conn... I'll bet Steve Jobs was never asked to speak at a MicroSoft company picnic... I don't remember Castro ever being invited to speak at the DC Press Club... Hiltler probably never spoke at the South London Ladies Garden Club....I could go on....

eVOLved writes:

That's awesome that they have a SEC-loving chamber of commerce. I'd like to stream video of the 2012 event--somebody should stream this one coming up, and post a link.

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

So the guy comes to Athens as a speaker. So what Adams, our 'hack' reporter?????

You always want to make more out of something than there is.

JimmyJoe writes:

I wonder if Saban has ever been invited to talk at the Baton Rouge or Gainsville chambers of commerce?

That_One_Fellar writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

I'll bet Pat never was invited to speak in Bridgeport, Conn... I'll bet Steve Jobs was never asked to speak at a MicroSoft company picnic... I don't remember Castro ever being invited to speak at the DC Press Club... Hiltler probably never spoke at the South London Ladies Garden Club....I could go on....

Wouldn't Saban have to be speakin in Knoxville to make your examples true??? I bet Pat never went to UConn to speak at a lucheon, but I'd put money she would have at least be invite to some community outside of Bridgeport, to speak about life no less...

Tennball writes:

Nick Saban is an excellent speaker in regards to leadership. He even uses Peyton Manning as an example of how one can better improve themself. I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee and pull for the Volunteers on the field, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss leadership styles with this coach. Heck, maybe our whole coaching staff may find a little free time one June the 11th to learn a little. Athens isn’t a long drive.

gc_scvol writes:

in response to Tennball:

Nick Saban is an excellent speaker in regards to leadership. He even uses Peyton Manning as an example of how one can better improve themself. I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee and pull for the Volunteers on the field, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss leadership styles with this coach. Heck, maybe our whole coaching staff may find a little free time one June the 11th to learn a little. Athens isn’t a long drive.

Well, if it's not a long drive, just drive your arse down there and help Nicki recruit. john adams never misses a chance to beat on the Vols, yet, they keep treating him like a hometown writer. He really needs to go...

dvols writes:

Anyone know what Butch Jones will be doing that weekend.......

thats a better story

Sir_Spanky writes:

Nick's gonna tell them about his new portable, morphine IV program he's sponsoring that will enable Alabama students who have the misfortune of encountering one of his players on campus to self-administer the pain inhibitor while they're lying on the sidewalk, waiting on the ambulance after a robbery beatdown.

jmaples54 writes:

interesting. you got to hand it to saban. as he said to mal moore in his interview for the bama job, you won't be getting the best coach, you'll be getting the best recruiter. so far, butch jones seems to be getting it.
but my gosh, people, if you are really tennessee fans, can you ever shut off the negativity? how in the world does your wife, your kids, your boss and coworkers put up with this? i hope vol recruits don't visit this site.

Tennball writes:

in response to gc_scvol:

Well, if it's not a long drive, just drive your arse down there and help Nicki recruit. john adams never misses a chance to beat on the Vols, yet, they keep treating him like a hometown writer. He really needs to go...

The difference in me and you is I respect my competition while you fear yours. To understand and learn from your competition is one of the best ways to win in the end. Thanks for the suggestion and, if free, I may head down that way. Trust me though, Coach Saban doesn’t need to speak at a small gathering in Athens, TN to boost his recruiting, his presence on the field is working just fine for him.

jmaples54 writes:

praise the lord that at least we won't be subjected to the rednosealchoholic's spewing anymore, since he has finally had enough. please become a lee college or utc fan. or just drink more.

6972 writes:

I am keeping this article and will have it framed. It will cure my insomnia and is cheaper than sleeping pills.

Saban_Palin writes:

You guys should attend. Might be your only chance to see what a winner looks like in person.

laraccoon writes:

in response to Sir_Spanky:

Nick's gonna tell them about his new portable, morphine IV program he's sponsoring that will enable Alabama students who have the misfortune of encountering one of his players on campus to self-administer the pain inhibitor while they're lying on the sidewalk, waiting on the ambulance after a robbery beatdown.

LOL , thanks i needed a good laugh .

gogovols2002#222335 writes:

Its like this..If Tennessee media outlets give no coverage = no advantage recruiting. If they give Saban good coverage = possible recruiting advantage?? Either way hard to see how a 16 or 17 year old could give a hoot about a speaking engagement for a small town chamber of commerce dinner.

glaw80 writes:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

glaw80 writes:

in response to andrews#1389072:

I too was born in Athens and am down there with some regularity.Some folks look at it as giving Nick Saben what amounts to a free recruiting visit in South East Tennessee and has really created a split in some factions!

Tell those factions he was "invited". I somehow don't see him going through phone books saying "Now what town can I target and impose myself upon in East Tennessee that would further my stature as the best coach in modern day college football and steal some recruits?" That would be like fishing in a dry lake.

budd#207344 writes:

in response to Tennball:

Nick Saban is an excellent speaker in regards to leadership. He even uses Peyton Manning as an example of how one can better improve themself. I am a graduate of the University of Tennessee and pull for the Volunteers on the field, but I would welcome the opportunity to discuss leadership styles with this coach. Heck, maybe our whole coaching staff may find a little free time one June the 11th to learn a little. Athens isn’t a long drive.

Your problem is you are intelligent.

cloudodust writes:

Will Saban soon be asked to sing the National Anthem at the next Super Bowl..? Strange days indeed.

vut5686#1405392 writes:

in response to Tennball:

The difference in me and you is I respect my competition while you fear yours. To understand and learn from your competition is one of the best ways to win in the end. Thanks for the suggestion and, if free, I may head down that way. Trust me though, Coach Saban doesn’t need to speak at a small gathering in Athens, TN to boost his recruiting, his presence on the field is working just fine for him.

Well said. The two sides of this argument is that one simply sees an opportunity to listen to a winner...and leader of a top program. The others seems to think this guy is out to "steal something that is ours," as if he doesn't have his entire staff already at it...assuming we have anything he wants.

As for this article...which starts it all, I guess Adams' valentine to his significant other said, "You sweat less than any fat girl I know." Even if he has a relevant, factual point, it must be delivered with sarcasm and a negative slant. As if an appearance by the coach of a national championship team at a Chamber of Commerce meeting is a problem.

jjk writes:

Nick Saban is speaking in Athens for about an hour at the Athens Chamber of Commerce. Big freakin' deal! Why is everyone in a tizzy about it? He speaks, then he leaves. I don't think he's here to recruit. He already has all the five-star players he wants, plus there's better talent in the surrounding states.

UTvols33 writes:

But I suspected others might not be as excited about Preston’s big get. So I asked if he had received death threats.

“Close, but not quite,” he said.

I don’t know if he was kidding.

They pay this guy to write this stuff? Seriously?

Who cares about Athens and what's the big deal about Saban coming to Tennessee as a speaker? I would like to hear him speak. Maybe some folks will come away with some good knowledge, I mean, he is a winner with a fantastic work ethic and leadership skills. Those are the kind of poeple you want to book for speaking engagements. Adams is making a mountain out of a mole hill.

Central_IL_Vol writes:

in response to Saban_Palin:

You guys should attend. Might be your only chance to see what a winner looks like in person.

Please remove Palin's name from any association with that snake-in-the-grass Nicky Satan! You must be another one of the inbred, goat-humping Bammer Morons who have no life other than trolling on a TN site!

golfman1975 writes:

in response to Saban_Palin:

You guys should attend. Might be your only chance to see what a winner looks like in person.

Don't you mean WIENER?

golfman1975 writes:

Motivational speech? Trying to MOTIVATE kids to go to Ala-Bama

gc_scvol writes:

in response to Tennball:

The difference in me and you is I respect my competition while you fear yours. To understand and learn from your competition is one of the best ways to win in the end. Thanks for the suggestion and, if free, I may head down that way. Trust me though, Coach Saban doesn’t need to speak at a small gathering in Athens, TN to boost his recruiting, his presence on the field is working just fine for him.

Fear is not an issue. I do respect Coach Saban, how could anyone not? I just think ja is always going out of his way to take jabs at MY VOLS, and you, I don't realy know anything about. (Thankful for that). Take it from me homey, you really don't understand this situation. AND ..FEAR THIS...GBO

AncientVolFan writes:

Once again, John Adams gets a chance to gig Coach Fulmer. It's evidently the gift that keeps giving.
I can imagine John will be knocking Fulmer on John's death bed. I've realized that I'm fading as a Vol fan after long years and while Adams isn't the reason, he's doing nothing to prevent it.

JOHNWARD4EVER writes:

in response to JimmyJoe:

I wonder if Saban has ever been invited to talk at the Baton Rouge or Gainsville chambers of commerce?

EXACTLY!!! I'm not sure who's the bigger IDIOT, Preston or JA,maybe we should vote on it,IMA its a tie!!

PureOrange writes:

Do you think we might go to the Birmingham or other Alabama papers or sites to get info about where Coach Jones is, or what he is talking about? OF COURSE NOT!

This is Tennessee. We could not care less about Nick Saban - where he is; what he has to say; and certainly not advertising for him so he can recruit easier in Tennessee.

Could we get Adams, and some other pretend sports writers to spend a little time informing us about Tennessee?

Adams cannot get a job in Alabama because they get more benefit from him being in Knoxville kissing the butts of anyone involved with Alabama. He has to be a close relative of Paul Finebaum.

Moesart writes:

Some people just need to grow up.

bigorangesux writes:

"The event has already reportedly sold 981 tickets, outselling last year's event that featured former Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer and members of the 1998 national championship team, which drew a crowd of just 276."

Sounds like home team support is the issue here in K-patch and Athens. . . . .

jt45 writes:

I wonder if the snacks are free or do you have to beat someone down after Saban motivates you !

bUTch_please writes:

"Well Coach," said the unanimous 5 star top-rated running back prospect, " those 4 National Championship rings on your hand aren't really that impressive...but...when I read in the paper that a thousand people came to your leadership speech in Athens...man..that sealed the deal!"

higgman55 writes:

I think I will save up a pound of my Fummunndaa, and go to Athens and hurl it on lil Nikky Satann! This bastard shouldn't be allowed to cross the border into TENNESSEE!

Snapshot writes:

in response to Saban_Palin:

You guys should attend. Might be your only chance to see what a winner looks like in person.

Maybe YOU should, because you sure don't see one when you look in the mirror.

vol49 writes:

in response to Saban_Palin:

You guys should attend. Might be your only chance to see what a winner looks like in person.

...and for his next trick, Harvey will poison the War Eagle!

vol49 writes:

Dear John,

There is a nice (cough cough) correctional facility over here in West TN. Would you be interested in being a featured guest speaker there? I can contact the warden and get you some 'facetime' and autograph sessions with the general population. Just don't drop your #2 pencil.

Go Vols!

Down_The_Field writes:

saban speaks on leadership?? interesting.

i'm disappointed. i wanted to go and listen to him explain how he pays off the tuscaloser police chief to keep his players out of jail and the media for burying bad press.

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