ATHENS (WATE) – Alabama football coach Nick Saban traveled into Vol Country Tuesday for a benefit speaking engagement in Athens.
The event ruffled a few feathers when it was announced earlier this year, bringing angry phone calls and even some threats to the Athens Chamber of Commerce, the event organizer.
Despite the controversy, Saban brought the largest crowd ever to the annual dinner, selling 1,500 tickets to the event.
Coach Saban spoke in a tent filled with UT and Alabama fans about leadership and motivation, making the night about more than football.
"This is not about Tennessee this is not about Alabama, it's about what we do for people, how we try to help people, how we try to support charities and we're here to support the chamber today," Nick Saban said.
The rivalry was still in evidence. The McMinn County Sheriff's Department increased security at the event.
"It was enough to cause us a little concern just to be here and be a presence here," Sheriff Joe Guy said.
But there was no trouble to be seen. Sheriff Guy said everyone showed respect for the coach and the event.
"People get passionate about being a fan and I'm a Tennessee fan myself, but at the same time you can't deny Coach Saban's ability either. It's nice to have him here and hear him speak," the sheriff said.
Even Vol fans decked in orange were excited.
"I'm a UT fan through and through, but he's going to go down as one of the greatest college coaches of all time, so how could you pass that up," said Drew Simmons, one of the few in attendance sporting UT gear.
The majority of those in the crowd were Bama fans.
"We have really good support, a really good fan base petty much everywhere we go," Coach Saban said of Tuesday's crowd. "I think one of the reasons we've been successful is our fans are such a big part of our team and they've been very positive with their support."
The chamber estimates about 90 percent of the crowd came from outside of McMinn County, bringing a big economic boost for the city of Athens. With 1,500 tickets at $50 a piece, thousands were raised for future community project.