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“He’s an intense guy, a passionate guy,” safety Jordan Kovacs said. “The first thing he talked about was championships _ Big Ten championships. He emphasized that we have 42 and we plan on getting 43 very soon.”

Former defensive end Glen Steele, who was coached by Hoke in 1997 when Michigan won the national championship, looked fired up enough to suit up for another snap.

“He loves it here and you can see it in his eyes and you can hear it in his voice,” Steele said.

Hoke’s chances to have success next season are tied to his ability to persuade Denard Robinson to stay after becoming the NCAA’s first player to throw and run for 1,500 yards in Rodriguez’s spread offense. Robinson’s high school coach, Art Taylor, said Wednesday afternoon he has already heard from at least 10 to 15 schools inquiring about the dual-threat quarterback.

“Every school wants Denard _ trust me,” Art Taylor said.

Michigan does, too, even if it has to postpone its return to a traditional-style of offense to keep Robinson.

“When you have talented players, it’s your job as a coach to mold that into what’s best for your football team,” Hoke said.

Robinson declined comment during the second half of the Ohio State-Michigan basketball game after the crowd roared when he stood, smiled and pumped his right fist with each “hail” in “The Victors” as the band belted out the school’s famed fight song.

When Rodriguez was hired to succeed retiring coach Lloyd Carr on Dec. 17, 2007, he was handed a blue button with “Beat Ohio State” in maize letters.

Rodriguez, who later put the button in the top draw of his desk on one of the many days he was mad, didn’t do that once.

The Wolverines slipped from being consistently good _ and sometimes great _ under Schembechler, Gary Moeller and Carr to awful, mediocre and average in Rodriguez’s three seasons

But Hoke bristled at suggestion that the program has slipped in stature.

“This is an elite job and will continue to be an elite job,” he said. “This is Michigan for God’s sakes.”

The native of Dayton, Ohio, has to do something about Michigan’s unprecedented seven-game losing streak to the Buckeyes to prove his point.

“That school in Ohio and growing up in Ohio, I understand both sides of it,” Hoke said.