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.Photo by Patrick Smith /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
ATHENS, Tenn. — Having won three BCS national championships in the last four years, Alabama football coach Nick Saban is generally regarded as the sport's brightest mind these days.
But judging from his hourlong appearance at the Athens (Tenn.) Area Chamber of Commerce's annual fundraiser at Tennessee Wesleyan College on Tuesday night, Saban may have no more than the second best intellect in his own home.
But better to let the coach humble himself.
It seems that at the close of the Crimson Tide's White House visit in April, Saban's wife of 42 years, Terry, realized she had left her purse at President Obama's home as the team was about to return to Tuscaloosa.
Because the visit also happened to take place on April 15, the same day as the Boston Marathon bombing, Coach Saban understandably found rough sledding navigating his way back to the White House to retrieve the purse.
But once that mission was accomplished, he couldn't resist asking Terry, "How could God make someone so beautiful but so dizzy?" She apparently loses her purse and her cell phone on a regular basis.
"That's easy," she quickly replied. "He made me beautiful so you would want to marry me. He made me dizzy so I would want to marry you."
But that wasn't Terry's only Bada-bing! moment.
In 2009, after the Tide's first title under Saint Nick, the couple returned to Fairmont, W.Va., where both had grown up, though Terry apparently somehow resisted the urge to date Nick until their senior years at rival schools.
During those high school days Nick worked at his father's gas station and Terry dated a guy we'll call Ricky Shaver. Saban believed that his work at the gas station -- "I was always covered in grease," he explained -- was one reason she wouldn't go out with him.
But by 2009, Saban was a multimillionaire football coach and this Shaver guy (not his real name) was now running a gas station in Fairmont.
"So I'm feeling pretty good about myself and I drive by this gas station with Terry and say, 'See, if you'd married [Shaver] instead of me you'd be working here right now.'"
To which Terry reportedly said, "No, if I'd married [Shaver] instead of you, he'd be the Alabama football coach today."
Further proof that behind every successful man is a woman who probably could have been more successful.
Yet with 1,500 coughing up $50 each to endure the humid heat trapped inside the two giant tents used to stage this event atop a Tennessee Wesleyan College athletic field, the big winner was the Athens Chamber of Commerce.
And with the exception of the two or three Tennessee fans who briefly circled the block shaking their Clorox Orange pompoms and blasting "Rocky Top" from their car stereos, pre-event fears that the Big Orange Nation might attempt to sabotage the event were unwarranted.
Instead, the very few Volniacs in attendance fell in line with Ed Brown, who said, "I've come to hear a leader of men speak."
Not that Brown is considering changing allegiances between now and the Vols' game at Alabama on Oct. 26.
"I'll want to kick the snot out of him in October," Brown said with a smile.
UT fans were also responsible for the most heartwarming scene of the night. Confined to a wheelchair for most of his life, Knoxville resident but huge Bama fan Erik Hermanson was brought to the event by Laura Mahoney and her boyfriend, Walter Deubler, both clad in orange.
"We've known each other since 1986, when we were in kindergarten together at Sacred Heart," she said of her friendship with Hermanson. "We just wanted him to get to see this."
When Saban finished his talk, he huddled with Hermanson for a few minutes, signing several items for him.
"I loved every minute of this," Hermanson said as Saban exited the campus. "Roll Tide."
Roll Tiders were everywhere, of course. The probably comprised more than 90 percent of the audience, including the mayor of Bridgeport, Ala., David "Bubba" Hughes, who wore a crimson T-shirt that read: "Friends Don't Let Friends Wear Orange."
"We'd travel 1,000 miles to hear Saban," said the 54-year-old Hughes, who added, "I've been a Bama fan since the day I was born."
It was clear throughout his talk that Saban was born to be a coach.
He can easily deliver the pithy sayings that obviously inspire young adult males to win championships, including "Do the right thing the right way at the right time all the time," and "The best opportunity to learn is when you make a mistake."
But he also takes the time to know his audience. Asked why he chose to come to Athens, he said, "This is a lot like the town I grew up in, filled with a lot of people with down-to-earth values. A lot of great people just like you in that town kept me on the straight and narrow. And you're doing that for somebody right now, even if you don't know it."
And if one of those people turns out to be as lucky as Saban, the person keeping him on that straight and narrow path for the rest of his life will become his wife.
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...