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Joe Judge, Who? Why the Giants Took a Risk on This Dark-Horse Candidate

There’s a good chance that many people were Googling the name of the new Giants’ head coach today. From our perspective, here’s why the franchise felt comfortable hiring Judge.

The casual Giants fan probably hasn’t heard much about Joe Judge before he was hired as the team’s head coach. So here’s what you need to know about the franchise’s big swing at a dark-horse hire.

• Judge’s strength is in his command; he has the ability to lead and be the one at the front of the room. And if you don’t believe me, you can trust Bill Belichick on that. His actions over the last five years demonstrate how he feels on Judge.

• In 2015, Belichick elevated Judge to special teams coordinator—the first time he’d entrusted that area, one he sees as vital, to a young guy during his time in New England. Belichick inherited Brad Seely, who had a decade of prior experience as an NFL special teams coordinator, when he got to New England in 2000. When he lost Seely after 2008, Belichick replaced him with Scotty O’Brien, who’d been his special teams coach in Cleveland.

Joe Judge

• Belichick added receivers coach to Judge’s responsibilities in 2019 as a clear effort to help get him in the head-coaching conversation, similar to what Andy Reid did for John Harbaugh 12 years earlier. Before the 2007 season, Reid made Harbaugh, his special teams coordinator for eight years, his defensive backs coach. That caused other teams to view Harbaugh differently, and he got the Baltimore job the next year. It’s easy to look at it now and see how this one played out similarly, and it’s a sign of the belief Belichick had that Judge was ready for his shot.

• This all seemed to happen fast, right? That’s because it had to. After Baylor’s Matt Rhule accepted the Panthers job, the Giants had a decision to make. Mississippi State was pursuing Judge, and there was an emotional attachment there, because Judge and his wife are both alums. So Judge needed clarity on where the Giants stood so he could make a decision on whether or not to return to his alma mater. Ultimately, Judge became the clear choice with Rhule out of the picture, and the Giants moved fast. 

Those that know Judge aren’t stunned that he interviewed well on Monday, just hours before all this went down. His presence is his strength, and it was obvious that would show up in an interview setting.

• Are his coordinator hires important? Definitively, yes. But you can say the same about most new head coaches. Two of the guys still alive in the playoffs, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel and Green Bay’s Matt LaFleur, only called plays for one year before becoming head coaches. Another, Kansas City’s Andy Reid, was never a coordinator before getting his first head-coaching shot. Both coaches in the college football national championship, LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Clemson’s Dabo Swinney, were just position coaches before becoming head coaches. Bottom line, play-calling is a very small part of being a head coach, and there’s very little correlation between a candidate’s play-calling ability and making a strong hire.

• Finally, Judge’s disposition lines up with GM Dave Gettleman’s history with coaches, and the Giants’ history with coaches. In Carolina, Gettleman won with Ron Rivera—a front-of-the-room leader more than a schemer—and Rivera delegated the defensive strategy to Sean McDermott during his first six years in Carolina. Before that, Gettleman worked with Tom Coughlin in New York—Coughlin was the Giants’ wide receivers coach before getting head coaching jobs at Boston College, then the Jaguars and the Giants.

The Giants’ other home-run hire at that position over the last half-century was Bill Parcells, who had only been a coordinator for two seasons before being promoted to head coach. Also, he delegated a lot of the defensive responsibility during his eight years in charge there to … Belichick. So it’s not hard to see why Judge was walking into a place that would be very open to his candidacy as a non-obvious choice.

This all, of course, guarantees nothing. But it should illustrate why the Giants felt comfortable giving him a chance. And why the fit there is better than you might think.

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