Crafting the Giants' Contingency Coaching Depth Chart

Patricia Traina

Giants head coach Joe Judge, his staff, and players are committed to doing everything they can to abide by safety protocols and recommendations that were put in place to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.

But what would happen if someone on the coaching staff were to test positive for the virus, an occurrence which, depending on the timing, could result in that person being unavailable to the team for at least ten days if not longer?

“We have succession plans for the coaching staff,” Judge told reporters Friday via a video conference call. “To be honest with you, my plan as the head coach as we go through training camp is not only evaluating players but also evaluating the coaches in terms of interaction. It has to be the total chemistry of how a game day would operate.”

Judge said he’ll be testing out some of those plans later this summer when the Giants hold some intrasquad activities designed to simulate gameday operations.

“We’ll also develop the coaching staff as well through intrapractice communication and then within the scrimmages and intrasquad game.”

Judge likely has a preliminary contingency plan in mind should someone not be available to do his job. So out of curiosity, I took a look at his assistants' career histories to see who might be able to step in for a colleague who can't do his job due to the virus.

Head Coach

Whether by design or accident, Judge has surrounded himself with several assistants who have prior head coaching experience at the NFL and college levels.

The former NFL head coaches include offensive coordinator Jason Garrett (Cowboys) and tight ends coach Freddie Kitchens (Browns), with Garrett the most senior of the two. At the college level, senior defensive assistant/outside linebackers coach Bret Bielema and senior offensive assistant Derek Dooley have been head coaches.

Defensive line coach Sean Spencer was promoted to associate head coach at Penn State, a role he held from 2018-19.

With all that said, presumably defensive coordinator Patrick Graham would be the next man up if Judge were sidelined. Graham was hired as the assistant head coach in addition to his defensive coordinator role; however, Graham has never been a head coach before at any level, though the same can be said of Judge.

Offensive Coordinator

The Giants’ likely option should Garrett test positive for the virus is Dooley, who held the role for the University of Missouri during the 2018-19 seasons.

Kitchens, who has coached nearly every position on the offensive side of the ball except for receivers, had an eight-game trial as the Browns offensive coordinator in 2018, a trial that was good enough to earn him a promotion to head coach the following year.

Defensive Coordinator

The most logical next man up behind Graham would be Bielema, who served as the co-defensive coordinator for Kansa State in 2002-03 and the defensive coordinator for Wisconsin in 2004-05. More recently, Bielema was a consultant to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and served as his defensive line coach.

Inside linebackers coach Kevin Sherrer has more recent experience as a defensive coordinator, holding the role at South Alabama in 2013 and serving as the co-defensive coordinator for Tennessee in 2018. And although Spencer has never been a defensive coordinator, he did orchestrate the Penn State run game during the 2018-19 seasons

Special Teams

Should something happen to Thomas McGaughey, Tom Quinn, his assistant, would make the most sense to serve as the primary coordinator. Quinn famously held the role as the Giants special teams coordinator from 2007-17, and although he Giants special teams had their ups and downs when Quinn was in charge if he’s pressed into action with McGaughey sidelined, presumably he’d run McGaughey’ s schemes.

Of course, he could also collaborate with Judge, who ran the Patriots special teams for years as well, though it wouldn’t be surprising if the thinking is that for as long as Judge is fit and able to coach, he’ll stay in his “CEO” role.

Offensive Assistants

Jerry Schuplinski, the current quarterbacks coach, has mostly specialized in quarterbacks since 2016. But he also has earlier coaching experience with running backs and special teams from his 2000-01 stint at John Carroll University.

Running backs coach Burton Burns has pretty much made his career coaching only running backs. If the Giants needed someone to fill in for the running game coordinator role (usually held by the lead offensive line coach), Burns would undoubtedly have to receive some consideration there. And if Burns wasn’t able to go for whatever reason, Kitchens, the current tight ends coach, could probably fill in.

Tyke Tolbert has coached wide receivers since 2003 when he was with the Cardinals. But he also has some earlier experience with coaching tight ends thanks to a pair of stints at Northeast Louisiana University (1995-97) and Auburn (1998).

Marc Colombo is one of the youngest members of Judge’s staff, and, with him being a former NFL offensive tackle, he’s continued to work with offensive linemen. Ben Wilkerson assists Colombo. Wilkerson is also a former NFL offensive lineman who had a stop with the Bengals in 2006 and Falcons in 2007-08.

Defensive Assistants

Sherrer has worked recently with inside linebackers from 2019-19 at Tennessee. He also had a string working with outside linebackers for Georgia in 2014-17, where one of his pupils was current Giants edge rusher Lorenzo Carter.

Bielema coached the Patriots defensive line last year, and as previously noted, has experience as a defensive coordinator, which could give Judge some comfort in having him fill in at defensive line should Coach Spencer have to miss a week or two.

Defensive backs coach Jerome Henderson, a former NFL defensive back, has primarily stuck with coaching players at the position where he once played. He has also served as a passing game coordinator. He’s aided by Anthony Blevins, who, before joining the Giants in 2018 as the assistant special teams coordinator, coached cornerbacks at the University of Tennessee at Martin (2008), Tennessee State (2009-11), and the University of Alabama at Birmingham (2012).

Jody Wright, a defensive assistant, has a diverse coaching background that has included coaching tight ends at Jacksonville State University in 2013, running backs at Alabama at Birmingham in 2014 (where he was also the assistant head coach, a stint he also held in 2018) and offensive line.

“There will be decisions that we’ll make at the end in terms of going through the season,” Judge said, admitting that he still hasn’t figured out the coaching depth chart. “Those decisions may change as we go through the entirety of the season. But we’ll structure practices accordingly.

“We started talking back in the spring in terms of if any one coach, myself included, couldn’t come to work that day for any period, how would we address meetings, practice on the field, the game. We have to make sure we have a plan. We’ll make ways within scenarios of, within game communication, where a certain coach isn’t there and practice those scenarios as well, so we have a plan in place.” 

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