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Tennessee fans criticize Nick Saban's in-state speaking engagement

(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) Nick Saban, counting how many recruits he'll land out of Tennessee during his speech. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

By Zac Ellis

A speaking engagement by an out-of-state football coach is causing quite a commotion in Tennessee. The seventh annual Athens Area Chamber of Commerce benefit dinner in Athens, Tenn., is expecting a near-sellout crowd for its event on Tuesday night.

The keynote speaker? Alabama head coach Nick Saban.

Saban's scheduled appearance isn't going over well with a number of residents in east Tennessee, as Athens sits just 60 miles south of Knoxville. Rob Preston, the Chamber of Commerce president, told the AP's Steve Megargee that the group has received more than 100 complaints from Tennessee fans about Saban's visit. The event's security has been beefed up as a precaution.

Preston said most of the phone calls "happen at two o'clock in the morning or when we're not here." He said the organization did not receive anything close to the same level of backlash when it hosted South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier in its first annual event.

"We certainly did not do this to get people upset," Preston said. "Some people say this is a combined effort to help Alabama's recruiting. I know to you that sounds ridiculous -- and it is very ridiculous -- but (some) people think that's what this is about."
Preston said the group is expecting close to 1,500 guests who paid $50 per person for the dinner. Some attendees reserved tickets from locations as far away as Florida and North Carolina.

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