CHICAGO — Before training camp starts next week, Penn State’s football staff will hunker in Scranton for its annual retreat.
There will be some downtime, including golf, but these are important days on coach James Franklin’s calendar, when the coaches re-acclimate themselves with the program’s philosophy.
Franklin imported the idea from the Green Bay Packers, where he worked for a season and wrote to himself, “If I’m ever a head coach, this is something I’m going to do.”
“If you’re not careful, over time your culture will start to break down, because you haven’t taken the time to talk philosophy and the things that are truly important to you,” Franklin said.
Managing expectations: The retreat might be even more timely this year, as Penn State embarks on defending its Big Ten championship. At the conference’s media days, Franklin was asked repeatedly about managing expectations, both internal and external, for his team this season.
The Lions have soaring expectations of themselves, citing the College Football Playoff as their preseason vision. “These guys are more motivated than I've ever seen at Penn State,” offensive lineman Andrew Nelson said.
And with good reason. Penn State returns nearly all of an offense that averaged nearly 38 points per game last season. It also brings back six defensive starters and the entire coaching staff from its conference-championship team.
Trip a refresher: Still, Franklin has wired his program in incremental gains, which grow out of events like the staff retreat. And the trip serves as an annual refresher.
“As you lose one or two [staff] guys a year, if you don’t do that, five years from now, people don’t really understand the organization and what’s truly most important to you,” Franklin said. “We take time to do it. For some of the old guys, it can be painful to talk about philosophy every single year. But it’s something I really believe in.”
PSU committed to Franklin: On Tuesday, Penn State Athletic Sandy Barbour said that Penn State is “100 percent committed to James, and James is 100 percent committed to Penn State” as the parties negotiate a contract extension.
Franklin is entering the fourth year of a six-year deal he signed in 2014. He is scheduled to make $4.3 million in base salary this season. That does not include a $300,000 retention bonus payable in December and up to $1 million in incentives.
“We’re trying to get to the right place,” Franklin said. “Sometimes it can be complicated, but I have no concern about us getting there. It’s just probably going to take longer than any of us thought.”
Franklin said the negotiations have not emphasized salary, either for him or his assistants.
“My contract all along has not been about me.” Franklin said. “It has been about Penn State football. What do we need to do to keep growing in every area: facilities, staff salaries, academic support, the things we need to do to build the No. 1 organization in college football, which is our goal.”
Sticking to his plan: Franklin was asked repeatedly Tuesday about the accelerated nature of 2016’s Big Ten championship, whether such an idea was part of the plan for year three. He shifted the subject away from being on schedule to sticking to his plan in years one and two.
Penn State won seven games in back-to-back seasons through scholarship limitations, roster churn and some exhausted players. Safety Marcus Allen explained that getting a full roster on board took time.
“Some guys really didn’t believe in what he was saying, because they had so many different coaches telling them something,” Allen said. “That’s like you having a stepfather, then another stepfather, then another stepfather. And they all have different rules. But now that you build this trust, you know his family, you know his background, you know everything, I would give my all for this man.”
Groundwork laid in first two years: As such, Franklin said that his staff’s best years of coaching came in the first two years, and not necessarily 2016.
“Everybody is focused on this past season,” Franklin said, “but the groundwork and the foundation that we laid in year one and two, which is what allowed us to have the success that we had this year.”