Hoke hopes to direct upset of Saban’s Crimson Tide

Near the steps of Schembechler Hall, Alabama coach Nick Saban is

holding the BCS’ national championship trophy with an ear-to-ear

grin seldom seen on or off the field.

The home of Michigan football is adorned with pieces of paper

with pictures, such as the one with Saban, and Crimson Tide logos

along with messages such as ”Beat Bama” and ”Roll The Tide,”

that welcome the Wolverines during game week of this year’s highly

anticipated opener.

It’s the kind of hokey thing Brady Hoke started last season. And

like just about every other thing he has done, it has worked.

Hoke said he brought the tradition that he started at Ball State

and carried to San Diego State to Ann Arbor and just because,

”This is Michigan,” as he often says, the rah-rah tactic has

stuck.

”It’s pretty simple,” he said with a shrug. ”It’s game week

and making sure that we focus in on what’s at hand for us.”

No. 8 Michigan figures to have its hands full against defending

champion and second-ranked Alabama on Saturday night at Cowboys.

The Crimson Tide is nearly a two-touchdown favorite.

If Hoke can help the Wolverines pull off an upset of Saban’s

Alabama machine, it might just be the biggest victory of his

coaching career.

Michigan associate athletic director for football, Mike Vollmar,

said the two coaches have a lot in common. And, he would know.

Vollmar is working closely with Hoke for a second season after

having a similar job alongside Saban for three seasons at Alabama

and when he was at Michigan State.

”They’re both great coaches, who care about the kids,” Vollmar

said Thursday. ”They’re very good at Xs and Os and with dotting Is

and crossing Ts off the field with academics, recruiting and

helping young me grow up. As a head coach, you have to be an

administrator too and they’re both very savvy about making

decisions that are best for their programs.”

Saban has won two national titles since 2009 and three in less

than a decade, counting the championship he won at LSU. He is

141-54-1 as a head coach that turned around Toledo and Michigan

State before doing the same with two teams that had lost their

luster in the SEC.

Two days before kicking off another highly anticipated season

with a marquee matchup, Saban sounded anything but satisfied with

what he has done so far as a coach.

”If I get to where I feel like I can focus on what I did, I

should quit,” Saban said Thursday in a telephone interview with

The Associated Press.

Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron wouldn’t be surprised to hear

his coach say that.

”That man doesn’t care how many national championships he wins,

he just wants to keep winning,” McCarron said. ”I think that’s

the mindset that I’ve taken from him.”

Saban has taken opportunities to leave his job in the past, but

insisted he’s done moving just as said while leading the Spartans,

Tigers and Miami Dolphins.

But after a two-year stint with the Dolphins, the 60-year-old

Saban really sounds as if his sixth season at Alabama is far from

his last and he has lost the allure of coaching in professional

football.

”We’ve had opportunities to go back to the NFL and have not

done it and I don’t see going in the future,” Saban said. ”You

can make the greatest impact on people in college and we need to be

smart enough to know where we belong. I really feel like it is

right here at Alabama.

”I see myself doing this forever. And when they stick you in

the ground, the only thing you have is your legacy. Hopefully, mine

is about helping a lot of people personally, academically and

athletically.”

Any team, pro or college, would have a hard time pulling Hoke

away from his dream job of leading college football’s winningest

program.

Hoke grew up in Ohio, rooting for the maize and blue, and worked

on Michigan’s staff when Saban returned to Michigan State as a head

coach in the late 1990s. Now, Hoke is in his second season in

charge after a much-heralded debut season in which the Wolverines

won a BCS bowl game for the first time since 2000 – when they beat

Alabama in the Orange Bowl – and 11 games for the first time since

2006.

He has embraced the program’s rich tradition and added some

wrinkles of his own. He refuses to even say the name Ohio State,

blares the fight song and other Michigan-related tunes at 1:30 p.m.

each day during game week at Schembechler Hall and has pieces of

paper put on windows in the building that feature that week’s

opponent.

”It keeps our mind on the prize,” Wolverines linebacker Kenny

Demens said. ”We understand what’s at stake here. With him and

everybody preaching, `Beat Bama,’ that’s keeping us focused.”

Down at Alabama, Saban said he doesn’t use any such signs of

visual motivation.

”We don’t do a lot of that kind of stuff,” he said.

Follow Larry Lage on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/larrylage

AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to

this report.