At a press conference in Jacksonville, Fla., previewing the Jan. 2 TaxSlayer Bowl, Georgia interim coach Bryan McClendon and Penn State coach James Franklin were asked how they can get their respective programs back to the point where they are competing for national titles.
It seemed as bit odd in McClendon’s case, since the Bulldogs have parted ways with longtime coach Mark Richt and have already hired Alabama assistant Kirby Smart as his replacement. Smart won’t take over full time until after bowl season, and there has been no indication that McClendon will remain on the staff at that point.
So when the question was asked, there was a pause, before McClendon looked at Franklin and said, “Go ahead coach.”
That was the only opening Franklin needed to talk up the future of his program.
“It starts by studying programs that have been successful,” he said. “I think consistency on your coaching staff is really, really important. I think getting everybody aligned. It’s no different in college football than any other organization. It’s making sure the president, the AD, the head football coach, the administration, the board — everybody’s pulling the rope in the same direction. Everyone understands the plan, everyone understands the vision, and everybody’s working together to provide an unbelievable experience for our student-athletes.
“It’s development,” he added. “It’s professional development of your staff. It’s development of your players — academically, athletically, socially, spiritually, the whole package. And then it’s about finding ways to be successful. Everybody focuses on the results, of what happens Saturday on the field or what happens Friday with the exam. But it’s about the preparation ahead of time. So all of those things are important. And the funny thing about being a college football coach is every single one of those areas is important, and you can’t overlook one.
“And then the other thing we know is important is going out and recruiting the right people on the front end. Not only good players, but good people and great students that want to truly get an education. Because it’s amazing how this works, but good people that are really good football players, the plays seem to work better when you have those guys. It just works out that way. And we’re fortunate, we have some really, really good players at Penn State and good people. We just want to continue building on that.”
But while calling Penn State’s future “very bright,” Franklin also took time to give a nod to the past — or soon-to-be past. He explained that the program would not be in the position it is now without the veteran players who stuck with it through the Sandusky scandal, NCAA sanctions and five different head coaches since 2011.
“I want to thank our seniors,” he said. “Our seniors are a special group of guys that will be remembered at Penn State forever. You think about all the things those guys have been through in five years — I’m the fifth head coach in 27 months — and how they have flourished academically, how they’ve made an unbelievable impact in the community and about how we’re in a position (where) we’re gonna be going to bowl games two years in a row after going through some really trying situations.
"We're looking at this game as an opportunity to go out and compete against a great opponent,” he added. "But hopefully propel us into a great offseason and a great season next year.”