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Paul Finebaum of the SEC Network and Alabama football coach Nick Saban argue during last year's SEC media days in Hoover, Ala.

Paul Finebaum became a prominent name in Southeastern Conference football circles as a columnist with the Birmingham Post-Herald, but it was his success in radio that catapulted him to his starring role with the SEC Network.

The Paul Finebaum Show airs each weekday afternoon from 3 to 7, and the 62-year-old University of Tennessee graduate will have additional responsibilities this season with a 2-3 p.m. show on ESPN2.

Finebaum was a recent guest of "Press Row" on Chattanooga's ESPN 105.1 FM:

Q: I would assume congrats are in order for the extra hour on ESPN2?

A: "Yeah, I guess my bosses thought that 20 hours a week wasn't enough. It's a great opportunity to go on a larger platform for an hour and get college football fans fired up, so we're really jacked about it."

Q: You asked a guest in June how Alabama would react to a loss to Florida State. How do you get through those slow times?

A: "Usually in June and July, I keep a bottle of Jack Daniel's under the desk. College football fans in June are almost at their most desperate for anything. I used to be an investigative reporter and a sports columnist and a trained journalist, and now I'm asking questions like, 'What will happen if something doesn't go the right way in four months?'

"OK, I'm embarrassed. What do you want me to say?"

Q: Is it too simple to say that you planted down in Birmingham, turned on a microphone to let Alabama and Auburn fans fight and made a successful living out of that?

A: "I don't think our program distinguishes itself in all that many ways other than — and I believe strongly in this — that we have the most unique set of callers in the country. The reason for that is that we literally turn the show over to the callers, and that's why it is such a train wreck most nights.

"The callers have an investment in the finished product, and I'm not saying we don't have good guests, because we do, but I think the callers feel like it's their show. As a result, I'm more of a moderator than I am someone giving opinions. I don't really say that much. I let them do the talking and try to guide them off and on the highway."

Q: Are you surprised how big it's become?

A: "That sounds likes a trick question, because if I say 'No,' it sounds like I'm arrogant, and if I say 'Yes,' it sounds like I'm naive. The true answer is 'Yes,' because I was exposed to this in Birmingham and could feel it getting bigger, but I live in Charlotte now and can walk down my street and see a North Carolina flag and a Duke flag.

"I don't feel it where I live, which I think helps me not think about that very often."

Q: You are polarizing to a lot of people. Was there significant pushback to your show when the SEC Network launched in 2014?

A: "There definitely was. Former commissioner Mike Slive told me before it was announced that he had met with every athletic director and let them know. He didn't tell me, but I found out later that there were a few who were like, 'Are you kidding me?' If you're going to be controversial, you have to know how others look at you and how you appear to them.

"That's been the biggest balancing act. Some people have labeled me the voice of the SEC, and I think that's a little bit deceiving. The SEC speaks from the voice of Greg Sankey, and I think I represent the fans. I know who likes me and who doesn't. It's not hard to figure out, but I think we try to be fair."

Q: What's your take on Tennessee this season?

A: "I am so confused on Tennessee. I am an alum, and I want them to succeed. Why wouldn't I? It's my school, but I do wonder sometimes why this is the fifth year we're hearing Butch Jones some and his supporters a lot saying they inherited a mess. Well, OK, that was a long time ago, and I don't think that should be a germane answer.

"I think it's time Tennessee shows up. I've been asked if Butch Jones is a national championship coach, and I think we'll find out. I thought he was close last year to getting there, and it came off the tracks. We'll find out this year whether it was injuries, bad luck or whether it starts at the top."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

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