Five Early (and Positive) Impressions of Head Coach Joe Judge

Thus far head coach Joe Judge is checking off all the boxes, but only time will tell if it leads to winning.
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The Giants’ Week 1 matchup against the Pittsburgh Steelers will mark the beginning of a new era in East Rutherford, as Joe Judge is going to face his first official test. It is already apparent that the Giants’ new head coach expects a lot out of his players.

In a few weeks, we will finally get the chance to see if his hard-nosed coaching style will result in success on the field. Going off of what we have seen so far, here are five ways that the Giants will be different under Judge.

1. They’re going to practice harder.

It is already evident that Judge takes practice very seriously. Considering that he spent eight seasons in the New England Patriots’ organization under Bill Belichick, this is not exactly shocking. Judge has highlighted the need for physicality during the Giants’ practices, to make sure that the players are prepared for regular-season games.

“We have to train these guys in a physical manner to make it safe for them to play the game the way the game is played,” he explained.

Especially with there not being any preseason games this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic, it is more important than ever for teams to be prepared for NFL games' physicality. Judge’s practices may be exhausting and demanding, but they will only benefit the Giants in the long run. He talked about why his practices have been so physical and competitive.

"Again, we're not doing anything out there to try to see who the toughest guy in the schoolyard is,” Judge said. We’re trying to get every player ready to play safely for 60 minutes against a competitor for 16 weeks.”

This Belichick-esque coaching philosophy is precisely what the Giants need right now. Their last two head coaches certainly did not exhibit this kind of intensity, and the results on the field for them were not very good.

2. Players are going to be held accountable for mistakes.

Judge has an old-school coaching style. Perhaps the most newsworthy information to come out of the Giants’ practices is that their new head coach makes players and coaches run laps when they make mistakes.

“There are consequences for making mistakes,” Judge said.

Although some have characterized this punishment as harsh and unnecessary, it certainly serves an essential purpose. Judge is trying to teach his players that actions have consequences. What stands out is that Judge is not letting his coaching staff off the hook. If a coach makes a mistake, they also have to do a lap. No one is being given special treatment on this team.

Judge’s commitment to holding everyone accountable for mistakes is being noticed by one of the Giants’ leaders. Saquon Barkley talked about why his new head coach is making players and coaches run laps.

“We want to be a detailed team. It’s the little things that matter,” Barkley said.

Bad teams do not improve unless there is a significant culture change. Having individuals take responsibility for their mistakes is a critical step in this process.

3. This is going to be a much more disciplined team.

By having physical practices and ordering players and coaches run laps when mistakes are made, Judge is trying to instill a level of discipline in his team that we have not seen in East Rutherford since the days of Tom Coughlin. Over the last three years, the Giants have been a very undisciplined team. Last season, they had the third-most giveaways in the NFL and had a -17 turnover differential.

Judge was part of three Super Bowl-winning teams during his time with the Patriots. He knows what it takes to win, and discipline is a significant factor. He explained why he takes such a serious approach to practice.

“At practice, we have to understand that there are consequences for mistakes,” Judge said. This isn't a punishment. It's a reminder that we have to draw our attention and be more detailed with how we approach things.”

A detail-oriented team is probably not going to commit over 30 turnovers in a season, as the Giants did in 2019. They also are not going to be a highly-penalized team if they are disciplined. Throughout his career as an assistant coach, Judge has learned under two of the best football coaches of this century. Belichick and Nick Saban built championship teams by creating a culture of greatness in New England and Alabama. They accomplished this by stressing the importance of extremely detailed preparation. It is already apparent that Judge is emphasizing this same thing with the Giants.

4. The Giants will have a true leader and teacher on and off the field.

One of the main issues that has plagued the Giants over the last three seasons is a lack of leadership from their head coach. This was very evident in 2017 with Ben McAdoo, as he lost the locker room.

Anonymous players criticized him, and that was even before he decided to bench Eli Manning before the Giants’ Week 13 matchup against the Raiders.

Although Pat Shurmur did not lose the locker room, he never really exhibited the type of leadership qualities necessary to be a successful head coach.

One thing that's apparent with Judge is that he has the personality to be the leader that this franchise needs. In his introductory press conference back in January, he talked about his philosophy regarding the players.

“Let's not think that in professional sports that paying a pay check to somebody makes it absent of empathy,” Judge said. “We need to make sure that we take care of the players in our locker room, that we treat them the right way, that we teach them the correct techniques, and that we put them in the right situations to be successful.”

Judge may come across as tough and demanding, but he recognizes that the guys' well-being that he is coaching must be one of his top priorities. Part of being a successful leader involves having the ability to teach others. Judge’s teaching background is already helping to make him a better coach. This also entails explaining to his players why they are doing certain things in practice.

“I'm a big believer in educating our team in why we're doing things. That we're not just out there blindly winging it and trying to go ahead and force punishment,” Judge said.

This goes back to why players and coaches have to run laps in practice when they make mistakes. Judge is teaching them that actions have consequences, whether it is committing a penalty during a game or not doing something right in practice.

5. Judge listens to his players and will not shy away from having tough conversations.

Something else that has stuck out with Judge is that he is very aware of what is going on in the community and throughout the country. Instead of shying away from addressing social issues, he has decided to have conversations with his players. A recent example of this was when he decided to delay the start of practice on Wednesday to discuss the senseless shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin by police.

“This wasn’t a distraction by any means; it was a conversation we had as a team that there’s some things that are very important in the locker room and the culture making sure that players understand: Look, we’re concerned about them. They’re concerned about us as well,” Judge explained.

Judge is already showing that issues that are important to his players concern him as well. Earlier this year, he held multiple team meetings to discuss the death of George Floyd while in police custody. This prompted him to take action.

Judge split the roster into nine groups, with each group having been paired with an organization in the tri-state area that works on various social issues such as criminal justice reform and racial equality.

This is yet another example of Judge’s commitment to having his players and coaches take action instead of just talking about something.

“We talked early in the process about how it’s ok to say something, but you’ve got to back it up. Before we start to go out to make some blanket statements, we want to be in a position where we’re making a difference and helping people in our everyday lives,” he said.

That statement goes back to what Judge said in his opening press conference about wanting his team to reflect the area they play in. He feels as though they can make a difference in their communities, and thinks that they should use their platform as athletes to accomplish this.

He has only been on the job for a little over seven months, but Judge has already proved that he gets it. He understands that the guys he coaches are more than just football players, they’re people who care about the world in which they live.

Ultimately, the Giants’ performance on the field will determine how successful Judge is. So far, he has said and done almost all the right things. It will be interesting to see if his high expectations and old school coaching style will pay off for the Giants right away.

One thing is certain: This team now has a driven new leader who is doing everything to change the culture in East Rutherford.