LOS ANGELES - How quickly the questions can turn. Penn State coach James Franklin already had talked at a Saturday morning Rose Bowl media conference at a downtown hotel when Nittany Lions athletic director Sandy Barbour faced cameras and recorders in front of her school's familiar logo.
Any news on a Franklin contract extension?
"Lots going on," Barbour said, adding later that things "are moving along" on that front, hardly upset with such a line of questioning ahead of Monday's Granddaddy of Them All matchup with Southern California. Barbour volunteered for the media availability. Standing in front of that PSU logo was no coincidence.
Earlier in the week, I asked to talk to Barbour and Penn State's AD returned the call, saying over the phone that she didn't know if the questions regarding Franklin's future have changed - "it's just that the answers have."
Let's argue the opposite. Barbour gets full credit, including from her head coach, for giving the same answers earlier this season when the questions included such phrases as "hot seat." She emphatically maintained then there was no such seat for Franklin, not at all, even after a 39-point loss at Michigan.
"I think after the fact it's pretty clear James didn't need the vote of confidence, and I just said what was on my mind," Barbour said Saturday, her football team on a nine-game winning streak. "There was a lot of chatter, which I thought was really counterproductive to conditions for success for this team and for our community and frankly, those decisions are going to be made by the athletic director and our president, and I wanted people to know how we felt."
Did the boss's vote of confidence impact this season, which veered toward magical one night against Ohio State and never left that road? Let's assume it did not. Barbour agrees with that. Players play and coaches coach and the results form the narrative spine of a season. But Penn State's 2016 narrative included those hot-seat questions. (I got ahead of that curve back in September, arguing that Franklin couldn't lose two straight to Temple).
Talking about things changing, the questions and answers, Barbour clearly meant that the fan base's opinions on the head coach, and the media viewpoint, have turned. Penn State folks believe at least contending for Big Ten championships are supposed to be part of the package. Getting their share against Michigan, Ohio State and Michigan State is a legit expectation.
"Yes, people are passionate for success," Barbour said. "But people needed to be a little patient. . . . Mine was about the long view, where I felt we were going. The fact of the matter, we're on a winning streak, playing in the Rose Bowl - we still have a lot of heavy lifting to do as a program. As exciting as this is, we're not there yet."
From hot seat to ahead of schedule.
"Absolutely not," Barbour said of whether she saw this coming.
She talked, however, about how there are some at Penn State - "I certainly include myself in that" - who strongly believed that Franklin was on the right track.
"It didn't take me very long upon my arrival - I believed very strongly that James was the guy," Barbour said, praising his leadership, his ability to motivate his team, in getting them to believe in themselves.
"That's what this team has taught us, about believing and trusting and having each other's back," Barbour said over the phone. "That's one of James' greatest gifts."
Obviously, a big part of this narrative is coaching-staff changes before this season, especially at offensive coordinator.
"Those are always difficult, when you're as thoughtful as James is, in every aspect of the program," Barbour said, talking about how Franklin had brought almost all his guys from Vanderbilt. "To have to make a change, or even contemplate them, is really difficult. Anyone who knows James knows he's very thorough, very thoughtful - he's going to do what is best long-term."
In her eyes - and no doubt, Barbour shares this logic with the fan base - getting a Big Ten title ahead of post-sanctions schedule has the benefit of it happening with such a young Nittany Lions roster.
"I think we're the second-youngest team in America," Barbour said. "Give us a year or two years and that's going to turn into a huge advantage - we're going to be one of the most experienced teams in the country, with really talented young guys, too."
You see, expectations can change as quickly as the questions.
"We're going to get there," Barbour said over the phone. "We're not going to be left out of the national championship picture."