NEW ORLEANS — With apologies to Donny and Marie, one of this year's Sugar Bowl coaches might be a little bit country, the other a little bit rock 'n' roll.

At least that's the gist of what Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said after hearing that Alabama coach Nick Saban arrived at press conferences with a police escort and security detail.

"He's a rock star. He's an icon," Whittingham said. "I'm just a regular guy."

So much so, in fact, that Whittingham arrived at his first function at the media hotel with little fanfare. He was accompanied by a Sugar Bowl volunteer and Utah director of football operations Jeff Rudy.

It significantly paled in comparison to Saban's entourage.

"To live in his world ... he probably needs that. He's a very identifiable figure," Whittingham said. "I'm a little more — I don't want to say obscure — but not in the forefront."

After searching for a more apt description, the coach settled for the term "under the radar" after it was suggested by a reporter.

Whittingham's descriptions of himself and Saban made Utah defensive coordinator/Utah State head coach Gary Andersen chuckle.

"That sounds like Kyle. That's a pretty good analogy, I guess. I don't know Nick Saban very well. So I guess he knows him better than I do," Andersen said. "But I know Kyle definitely doesn't have any interest in being a rock star. I can tell you that much."

Alabama quarterback John Park Wilson also got a laugh out of the comment about Saban.

"Rock star? I don't think he would say that," said the senior. "But, I don't know, I think it's pretty funny."

Saban, he added, is without question a college football icon.

"He's on the cover of everything," said Wilson, who noted he'd love to hear what the coach thinks about being labeled as a "rock star."

Running back Glen Coffee said such talk is outside of football, and Alabama's head honcho is all about football.

"Coach Saban is always about business. Whenever he confronts us it's about football and how to affect the team and how to help the team. So we really don't get any of that," Coffee said. "Not when we're at the complex. Maybe when we're out in town — you know what I'm saying — people might speak of him like that, but when it's one-on-one with us and coach Saban it's all business."

The Utes view their leader differently.

"Obviously coach doesn't make $4 million a year at one of the historic programs in college football. That brings a lot in itself," said senior quarterback Brian Johnson. "Coach Whit is just a football coach. That's all he wants to do. It's not about the accolades, winning awards and all that type of stuff. It's about going out and getting his team to play hard every week."

Whittingham, who signed a new five-year, $6 million contract with Utah on Monday, wasn't directly involved in the negotiations. He insists his focus remained on football.

"He obviously loves what he does. He's a great coach," Johnson explained. "But he's not into all the drama and all the hype and stuff like that. He's all about hard work and handling his business."

Whittingham's approach to the game differs from Saban's intensity.

"I think he's a regular guy. He's just a real laid back, family guy," said senior receiver Brent Casteel. "He's not really into the media thing. But I will say he's a really laid-back guy."

Both Whittingham and Saban have found success with their styles.

Whittingham is 36-14 in four seasons at the helm of Utah, while Saban has 110 wins at the collegiate level. He picked up national coach of the year honors after leading Alabama to a 12-1 record in 2008.

Allstate Sugar Bowl

Utah (12-0) vs. Alabama (12-1)

Friday, 6 p.m.

New Orleans Superdome

TV: Ch. 13

Radio: 700 AM


E-mail: dirk@desnews.com