Nick Saban event increases security after death threats

12:39 AM, Jun 11, 2013   |    comments
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University of Alabama head coach Nick Saban will be in Big Orange country Tuesday night to speak at a benefit dinner.

You might expect that some UT fans would be unhappy.  But the organizers, Athens Chamber of Commerce, say it's gotten out of hand.

"I think Athens should be used in target practice for the United States Air Force. I also think beatings are in order for the [expletive] who come to see Saban," wrote an upset fan in an email to Athens Chamber of Commerce President Rob Preston.

Preston, who considers himself a passionate Tennessee fan, invited Saban to be the guest speaker at their annual benefit dinner in hopes of gaining some attention for their work in the community. They use the money for scholarships and community projects. But he did not get the kind of attention he wanted.

"I wish you all the worst and hope your event is a complete failure," said another email.

The controversy started six months ago when the chamber put up four billboards from Knoxville to Chattanooga with Saban's picture to announce the event.

"Most of them are passionate fans. Some of them have just taken it overboard and gotten carried away," said Preston.

Preston said his office has taken about 100 calls, many after hours. One voicemail played Rocky Top and ended with a loud, "I hate Nick Saban."

It is not something the chamber is taking lightly.

Saban's office was concerned and asked the Alabama state troopers to escort him in. The McMinn County Sheriff's Office will also be present and is aware of some death threats.

It's such a polarizing issue that there are even differences in families in Athens.

"There's a lot of people in Athens who really like Alabama and that's okay," said Mary McGinnis.

"It will probably be good for Athens, but you're not going to get me to say anything good about Alabama," said her husband, Mike McGinnis.

Preston says the benefits outweigh the negative comments.

"Of the 1,500 people coming, 90% of them are from outside our county. From the city's economic standpoint it's huge. They're going to be spending the night, buying gas," Preston said.

They will also be raising money, at $50 a ticket, to go toward a community project. Saban will use the money he earns for his non-profit foundation, Nick's Kids.

Preston says they hosted coach Steve Spurrier several years back and didn't have the negative reaction that they've received with Saban.

"This will be the largest event like this in in the history of our city so we're excited about it," Preston said.

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