Four months removed from yet another 11-win season, James Franklin refuses to take his foot off the pedal.
Really, he and Penn State never can. In today's college football climate, every Power 5 program striving to either become a consistent playoff contender or maintain that status has to be "hitting on all cylinders at a high level," as Franklin noted.
That's why on his final stop of Penn State's Coaches Caravan — when asked Wednesday about facilities and where the Nittany Lions stand — Franklin used it as an opportunity to expound on the current state of the program. The coach who was hired in January 2014 has made noteworthy strides, bringing Penn State from a middling post-sanction squad to a legitimate title challenger. But for the life of him, Franklin doesn't want that to fade away.
"We have momentum right now, and we have to capitalize on this momentum," Franklin said, after explaining for several minutes the facilities upgrades that need to happen. "Because I don't want to be a program that every three or four years, we have a really good run. I want to be a program that can do it consistently. And there's only a handful of programs that do that."'
In other words, Franklin wants Penn State to reach Alabama status. He wants the Nittany Lions to be totally on par with the behemoth Urban Meyer has built at Ohio State. He wants Penn State to not just sniff, but reach the College Football Playoffs on a regular basis for years to come. He wants dominance.
That's tough to do when competing with Alabama, Ohio State, Clemson and Georgia for the same recruits while walking on Lasch Building carpets that haven't been changed in 20 years.
Franklin said there are "a lot of things that have to get done" with the Lasch Building renovations. The meeting rooms are getting worked on now. The players' lounge isn't done. Neither are the coaches' offices. The turf practice grass is being replaced 10 years too late.
These seem like inconsequential, petty details. But Franklin notices, and so do prospects.
"We're pretty much recruiting — for every single one of our recruits — against top 10, top five programs. You're trying to really differentiate yourself, but really, in that group, it's almost impossible to differentiate yourself," the coach said. "What you can't do is, you can't have the glaring weaknesses. That's what ends up being the differentiator from a negative perspective. It stands out because it's so obvious."
Opposing programs know that. Just like tendencies on the field, schools like Notre Dame and Michigan know where to poke holes.
Franklin said it before at an in-season press conference, but reiterated on Wednesday that "losses force you to look at your issues," while "wins can be deodorant for a funk that exists."
"You have to be more urgent, and more detailed, and more critical after wins," Franklin added. "If not, those things that you're doing poorly as coaches and as players, that's going to come back to haunt you at some point."
The same principle applies when Penn State looks itself in the mirror as a program after back-to-back 11-win seasons. After capturing a Big Ten championship in 2016 and a Fiesta Bowl victory in 2017, it would be easy for Franklin and the Nittany Lion staff to rest on their laurels.
But that's not what builds a consistent winner. That is why Franklin spent half of his Wednesday media availability talking about where Penn State is, where it needs to go and how it's going to get there.
Even in May, it's important to keep that long-term goal of sustained success in focus.
"I don't want this to come off the wrong way: I am unbelievably appreciative of what we've been able to get done in a short period of time," Franklin said of Penn State's facilities efforts. "The issue is, we hadn't done anything for a long time, so the gap was widening. Now we're chipping away at it. The problem is, the people that we're competing with, it's not like they're going to press the pause button and say, 'Hey, let's wait for them to catch up.' They're moving forward."
The Nittany Lions need to, as well.