Sea of crimson in Big Orange country for Nick Saban speech

Alabama football coach Nick Saban signs an autograph for Knoxville resident Erik Hermanson after the annual Athens Area Chamber of Commerce fundraiser in Athens, Tenn. Saban spoke about the importance of leadership during the dinner.

(Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Alabama football coach Nick Saban signs an autograph for Knoxville resident Erik Hermanson after the annual Athens Area Chamber of Commerce fundraiser in Athens, Tenn. Saban spoke about the importance of leadership during the dinner. (Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press)

Nick Saban wows crowd in Athens

ATHENS, Tenn. — The local chamber of commerce was flooded with angry e-mails, threatened with boycotts and besieged with publicity after it invited Alabama coach Nick Saban to its annual benefit dinner.

In the end, Saban’s arrival produced a record-setting crowd and little controversy.

The Athens Area Chamber sold 1,500 tickets — many to out-of-state fans — and flooded the tiny campus of Tennessee Wesleyan College with crimson on Tuesday night.

“Not only will this be a record attendance,” said Murray Willis, the chamber’s chairman, “it will be the only time we’re on ESPN.com.”

A sizeable line had formed more than an hour before the event started. At its longest, the line twisted through the center of campus, through an archway, down College Street, and around the corner of a city street in downtown Athens.

An enterprising church group started selling parking spots for $5 apiece.

But there was little sense of the acrimony that had stewed on message boards and talk radio at this event. A handful of orange-clad fans mingled comfortably with the hordes in crimson. At one point, a fan drove by blaring Rocky Top, but the crowd was more amused than offended.

“A sea of red has come to the heart of Big Orange country,” intoned the emcee before Saban arrived.

But Saban didn’t elaborate greatly on questions designed to further the Tennessee-Alabama angle.

Asked about new Tennessee coach Butch Jones in a short interview session before the event, Saban replied, “I don’t really know that much about Butch, but I have a lot of respect for him. He’s had success everywhere he’s been. I’ve got a lot of respect for the University of Tennessee.”

Based on cheers from the crowd when asked for their home state, the majority of fans

in attendance were, in fact, from the Volunteer State. But residents from Georgia and Alabama also made the trek to a bright yellow striped tent that smacked of a revival.

The crowd was so large that many fans decided to forgo tables and eat on benches or brick embankments near campus. The catered meal — barbecued pork on cornbread — was ample, but the caterers temporarily ran out of Gatorade and water that was grabbed up by fans famished by the 90-degree heat.

Inside the tent seemed even hotter, although Saban declined to remove his tan suit jacket. Pacing back and forth, he offered plenty of coaching stump-speech staples filled with punchlines that drew big laughs.

Saban said the big-tent atmosphere was one of the best venues he had ever spoken in, and he favorably compared Athens to his hometown in rural West Virginia.

“How did I get from there to here?” he asked, referring to his hometown as highlights of Alabama’s national championship season played on a video screen. “I’m not going to talk a lot about football. I’m going to talk about how you win. There’s no way you can be a good leader if you’re not willing to serve other people.”

Saban sprinkled a few anecdotes about his leadership philosophy, including a no-nonsense, well-defined organizational structure that he learned from former boss Bill Belichick. He said “mediocre people” must be rooted out of a successful organization.

“Mediocre people don’t like high achievers and high achievers don’t like mediocre people,” he said. “I know I’m old-fashioned, but I believe it, it works for me, and that’s why I have success.”

Security didn’t seem especially tight, although Saban was ringed by his usual phalanx of security and assorted staff members. County deputies were on hand for the large crowd, but there were no incidents. Before the speech, the emcee warned fans to stay away from the stage, no matter how much they wanted to take photos.

Evan Woodbery covers Tennessee athletics. Follow him at www.Twitter.com/TennesseeBeat.

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Comments » 71

Witch_Doctors writes:

Witch Doctor say Saban is a true winner and they best coach in college......until Witch Doctor stick this pin in his voodoo dolls heart one day real soon and mess up voodoo dolls hair...bwoohaaaaa. Witch Doctor say Butch is the man....and Witch Doctor add..smart hair for the coach on the go!
Bones never lie.

stevefrommemphis writes:

"High achievers don't like mediocre people." I translate that as: "Sign 30 and keep the best 20."

UTKin1992 writes:

A sea of crimson = a cesspool of morons

murrayvol writes:

For the better part of 15 years that "sea of crimson" was hard to find.

I long for the return of those thrilling days of yesteryear. Bring back Mike, or Dennis, or the other Mike, anybody but Saban.

chattabluetick writes:

Every dog or elephant for that matter has its day. One constant is change, and their time on the top of the heap will run its course. It will be time for another team to rise up and take the mantle. Maybe as the wheel goes round it will not be long before the Vols can hold their own against any team, and get back to winning the majority of those contests. Getting back to where the Vols want to be starts exactly with winning recruiting battles for some of the top players who fit CBJ system. GBO

orangecountyvols writes:

Can't dispute the success of Saban, everywhere he has been. You do have to have the players however, and he has had them.

Looking ahead, the Tide's toughest games might well be the first two, with Va Tech in Atlanta, then at Texas A & M. After that, it's more than likely just one real test, LSU at Bama on Nov 9.

Colliervol writes:

in response to murrayvol:

For the better part of 15 years that "sea of crimson" was hard to find.

I long for the return of those thrilling days of yesteryear. Bring back Mike, or Dennis, or the other Mike, anybody but Saban.

Exactly Murray. Lots of sidewalk Bammer alumni when they win. But that's like most schools I guess. Only the real fans stick around when times aren't so good. I believe they'll come back down to earth when Saban hangs it up. He is the sole catalyst for their amazing run.

oldster writes:

A bunch of front runners. These people all also root for the NY Yankees, and any other team that happens to be winning at the moment. If Alabama were to hit the hard time UT has, they would leave them like rats leaving a sinking ship.

RollTideJoe writes:

in response to UTKin1992:

A sea of crimson = a cesspool of morons

Look at the football APR ratings and you tell me who the morons are. Stop embarrassing yourself.

Fall_Creek_Vols writes:

Dear Athens,

They already have an Athens in Alabama. Have you looked at a map lately? The correct color in these parts is ORANGE!!!

Signed,

Your 5th grade Geography teacher.

utvolfan1955 writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Look at the football APR ratings and you tell me who the morons are. Stop embarrassing yourself.

Go to a Gump site if you don't like his comment

SevenT writes:

Finally some class arrives in Tennessee

Toughmeaness writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Look at the football APR ratings and you tell me who the morons are. Stop embarrassing yourself.

You need a ACT score of 17 for Admission to Alabama, a 26 might get you into UT. Alabama has become the bailout school for academics. If you can't get into your state school, go to Bama. Maybe UT should dumb it down to The Alabama and Ole Miss level to improve the APR.

Sir_Spanky writes:

I'll bet there wasn't a can of Vienna Sausages left on a store shelf within a 100 mile radius of this event! Roll Tide!

CrankE writes:

Just keep Al from Dadeville away from the trees.

Orange_Beach writes:

in response to Toughmeaness:

You need a ACT score of 17 for Admission to Alabama, a 26 might get you into UT. Alabama has become the bailout school for academics. If you can't get into your state school, go to Bama. Maybe UT should dumb it down to The Alabama and Ole Miss level to improve the APR.

I think you've got you schools mixed up. UThug is the school that takes other schools flunkies and rejects. Darrington Sentimore and the other D-lineman that couldn't get into Florida come to mind.

fearthehound writes:

1500 people = a sea?? If you live in Athens, what else you got to do on Tuesday night? Besides, they were all Alabama fans who drove from all over to worship their god. It could have been held in any town or any state close to Alabama and gotten the same results.

fearthehound writes:

in response to Sir_Spanky:

I'll bet there wasn't a can of Vienna Sausages left on a store shelf within a 100 mile radius of this event! Roll Tide!

LOL. Now, that's funny.

fearthehound writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Look at the football APR ratings and you tell me who the morons are. Stop embarrassing yourself.

Umm Joe, I think the APR ratings apply to the athletes, not the fans. Besides, are you going to convince us all that Saban is out there recruiting really smart football players and UT is left with the dumb ones? Maybe it has something to do with the courses or the grades their given--hmm?

ctwins writes:

in response to fearthehound:

1500 people = a sea?? If you live in Athens, what else you got to do on Tuesday night? Besides, they were all Alabama fans who drove from all over to worship their god. It could have been held in any town or any state close to Alabama and gotten the same results.

Actually folks from Va to Fla were in attendance. Ironically the speaking engagement
is an accurate parallel for the rivalry. Last
week the rocky floppers have a free pep rally
for the good folk and 600 show up. CNS gets 1500 from all over the SE paying $50 a head. About as wide as the scoreboard margin the last 6 yrs...

Even better than winning is seeing those true blue vol fans selling their tickets by the thousands in 08, 10, and 12, now that was a sea of crimson in old Neyland. Yea Alabama and roll tide......

StoneJackBaller writes:

Obviously, Saban is the man. Much respect. Unlike the typical Alabama fan, who feels the need to post on our websites, he's also pretty classy in showing respect for UT. Let them talk all they want. It won't be long until Butch has UT at the top again. #butchplease

cheetah-vol writes:

“A sea of red has come to the heart of Big Orange country,” intoned the emcee before Saban arrived.

Athens, TN = the "heart" of Big Orange country???

ewhite#207432 writes:

in response to SevenT:

Finally some class arrives in Tennessee

If this guy is class, put me down on the side of wanting more classless people in the world. Saban is a self-centered butt who treats other people like phooey.

285exp writes:

in response to shiftb:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

You people hired Lane Kiffin, you've got no room to talk about lying coaches.

Chappy writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Exactly Murray. Lots of sidewalk Bammer alumni when they win. But that's like most schools I guess. Only the real fans stick around when times aren't so good. I believe they'll come back down to earth when Saban hangs it up. He is the sole catalyst for their amazing run.

Agreed.

It's easy to be a fan when your team is winning.

I've seen a lot of Bama tee shirts and license plates in Mid TN since they started winning. Not so much when they had that rough patch before Saban.

NashvillePreds writes:

Reminds me of when Columbia University allowed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a forum with which to preach his message on U.S. soil.
Disgusting

Go Vols

Olddogsrule writes:

in response to SevenT:

Finally some class arrives in Tennessee

I didn't want to say these things but you take the cake. Kentucky, the armpit of the south, is not just a 'fly-over state', for me and my entire family it's a 'drive through state' as well. Why? You can hardly stop anywhere, outside of right on the interstate exits, to use a restroom without finding the most vile wall writings I've seen in my life spread all over. No one with a family can stop in Kentucky without their children exposed to things that have obviously been on the walls for months. Kentucky people write that trash, and even worse, Kentucky business owners don't remove it as soon as it appears. So, don't act as if Kentuckians know anything about class. I they did, they'd correctly use tax money to buy a tanker truck of paint to go around the state hosing down public restroom walls. I will say, anyone from any other SEC state (to include Nick Saban and how he conducted himself in Tennessee) has it all over a Kentuckian in class.

antonio14313 writes:

alabama loses 2 this year.

t

antonio14313 writes:

in response to orangecountyvols:

Can't dispute the success of Saban, everywhere he has been. You do have to have the players however, and he has had them.

Looking ahead, the Tide's toughest games might well be the first two, with Va Tech in Atlanta, then at Texas A & M. After that, it's more than likely just one real test, LSU at Bama on Nov 9.

except the NFL. ;)

t

antonio14313 writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Look at the football APR ratings and you tell me who the morons are. Stop embarrassing yourself.

ya know, there are smart morons out there too. don't kid yourself. ;)

t

Orange_Beach writes:

in response to Chappy:

Agreed.

It's easy to be a fan when your team is winning.

I've seen a lot of Bama tee shirts and license plates in Mid TN since they started winning. Not so much when they had that rough patch before Saban.

Not sure you know what you're talking about. When Alabama had it's "rough patch" Bryant-Denny was selling out every week with a waiting list of 15,000 requests for season tickets and two major stadium expansions(actually pouring concrete not by adding more seat numbers). While Tennessee can only fill up NeyBoob for games against Alabama and Florida and Alabama fans have had 30-40 thousand inside the stadium and almost as many that didn't have tickets to the game. I live on the Alabama Gulf Coast and see plenty of Tennessee tags but no hint of that nasty looking Orange, but I guess if people were laughing at me I would put those "Powerless T magnets" in the trunk too.

richvol writes:

Settling for mediocre performance from his coaching staff is what cost Fulmer his job.

Olddogsrule writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Look at the football APR ratings and you tell me who the morons are. Stop embarrassing yourself.

eviduhentli yoher bahx uv chahkolats cain't be fount in yer own alabammie as yer alus writtin on this here site!

RollTideJoe writes:

in response to Toughmeaness:

You need a ACT score of 17 for Admission to Alabama, a 26 might get you into UT. Alabama has become the bailout school for academics. If you can't get into your state school, go to Bama. Maybe UT should dumb it down to The Alabama and Ole Miss level to improve the APR.

You don't know what you're talking about. Check out the facts before you make absurd statements. I could site numerous, national stats, but I won't waste my time when you obviously think you know it all. Which school is under NCAA watch over academics?

RollTideJoe writes:

in response to Chappy:

Agreed.

It's easy to be a fan when your team is winning.

I've seen a lot of Bama tee shirts and license plates in Mid TN since they started winning. Not so much when they had that rough patch before Saban.

Have you considered what they're running from??

TommyJack writes:

Close the southern border.

orangecountyvols writes:

Vols,

Take note.......we realize the article is about Saban, hence the influx of Bama trolls on this site. However...........that's not the end of it. No matter what the column is about on Govolsxtra, all through the year, Alabama trolls are here. They are consumed with Tennessee.

But, they can take solace.......their portly softball players can now return to the Alabama offensive line in time for fall drills.

BruisedOrange writes:

"pond"

...a pond of crimson.

rbwtn writes:

Hey; look at your self why are you acting like this. I'm Totally Tennessee! but I'm also SEC all the way. If we couldn't win over the last 5 years I'm sure glad some other school in the SEC could. It's not going to last for ever friends we need to get off our High-horse and enjoy the ride after all it is only a sport.

murrayvol writes:

in response to Colliervol:

Exactly Murray. Lots of sidewalk Bammer alumni when they win. But that's like most schools I guess. Only the real fans stick around when times aren't so good. I believe they'll come back down to earth when Saban hangs it up. He is the sole catalyst for their amazing run.

He's good. He's very good. On the short list for Best College Coach Ever. It may take awhile, but even Saban will get old. I can't wait.

murrayvol writes:

in response to SevenT:

Finally some class arrives in Tennessee

And there you go.......farting in the elevator again.

murrayvol writes:

in response to shiftb:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

They made him an offer he couldn't refuse.

murrayvol writes:

in response to TommyJack:

Close the southern border.

Let's keep politics out of this TJ. :{)

ModelMaker writes:

Food for thought for Alabama trolls. Butch Jones has the ability to get inside a player and motivate. He already has got into my mind and has motivated me. I think it will take a few years but I think Tennessee is headed in the right direction. Straight at Alabama.

murrayvol writes:

in response to JBVols1698:

(This comment was removed by the site staff.)

Every troll has his season. The answer is winning......a lot.

usafvol writes:

The fact that many were out of state fans (Bamaroids) only means that the people of Alabama have nothing better to do than follow their coach around and listen to him speak. Please tell me there's more to do in Alabama that being a Saban groupie..

Central_IL_Vol writes:

in response to UTKin1992:

A sea of crimson = a cesspool of morons

LIKE x 1,000!!

navarrebeachvol writes:

in response to Orange_Beach:

Not sure you know what you're talking about. When Alabama had it's "rough patch" Bryant-Denny was selling out every week with a waiting list of 15,000 requests for season tickets and two major stadium expansions(actually pouring concrete not by adding more seat numbers). While Tennessee can only fill up NeyBoob for games against Alabama and Florida and Alabama fans have had 30-40 thousand inside the stadium and almost as many that didn't have tickets to the game. I live on the Alabama Gulf Coast and see plenty of Tennessee tags but no hint of that nasty looking Orange, but I guess if people were laughing at me I would put those "Powerless T magnets" in the trunk too.

I live on the Florida Gulf Coast and I see plenty of Volunteer merchandise proudly displayed on vehicles by tourists and locals alike. The smart vacationer prefers the Florida Emerald Coast over any nasty Alabama coast line. So, your theory is dispelled. Go back to work, if you have a job.

Central_IL_Vol writes:

in response to RollTideJoe:

Look at the football APR ratings and you tell me who the morons are. Stop embarrassing yourself.

The REAL MORON; a Bammer TROLL on a Vol site!!

Stop embarrassing yourself.

Central_IL_Vol writes:

in response to SevenT:

Finally some class arrives in Tennessee

Obviously there is NO CLASS where you are concerned, MORON!

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