Years from now, when NFL historians look back on the 2020 New York Giants season, they’ll likely do so unfavorably and with good reason.
The record equates to a .375 winning percentage and is just another entry in what was a forgettable decade in Giants’ history.
But as the Giants attempted to build up the rubble of a franchise that save for one outlier season in 2016 in which they looked closer to their 2011 championship selves, there was one constant bright light shining through.
Head coach Joe Judge.
To his players, "Coach Joe" is the same guy he was last year.
"He has high expectations for us," said cornerback James Bradberry. "He's going to push us to our limits. He's going to push us hard. Practice is going to be tough. Meetings are going to be informative. He's going to make sure that we get all the information that we need to make plays and he's the same coach as last year."
But last year's version of Joe Judge led a 6-10 team that while showing signs of promise, needs to be better in this, Year 2. And Judge is fully aware--and ready to embrace that the process starts with him.
Ahead of the Curve
Judge, who not only was in his first season as an NFL head coach but who also had to navigate through an unprecedented season heavily affected by a global pandemic, will probably vehemently object to the sentiment.
But between him having a clear vision and a plan to execute it as far as rebuilding the shattered Giants franchise, Judge proved to be just as good, if not better, than some of his fellow head coaching colleagues around the NFL.
There are countless examples, ranging from showing compassion to players, no matter who they are. One such example was Derrick Dillon, who Judge and the Giants cut for one week so he could return home to spend time with his first-born child—but not before making sure Dillon was on the roster long enough to qualify for a paycheck.
Then there was safety Logan Ryan, whose wife had to undergo an emergency procedure in Florida resulting from an ectopic pregnancy that could have killed her had she not checked into a hospital.
While Ryan chose to remain with the team, Judge made sure to throw his full support behind the veteran and allow him to do what was best for his family.
Acts of compassion such as those aren’t necessarily uncommon among head coaches. But other actions that demonstrate a strong sense of loyalty and support--partaking in a slip-slide drill in the mud and fiercely protecting players, especially those trying to come back from injury are not as common as they should be.
Judge believes in all that, and for still a young head coach, his communication skills with his players are already at a Hall of Fame level.
Judge made sure to involve his players regarding decisions made by the team, thereby promoting a sense of ownership in the program rather than a “do as I say” type of dictatorship.
And in a move that probably will resonate with disgruntled Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, Judge admitted that he makes it a point to speak with his veteran players before bringing in new faces to play similar positions.
Two examples include offensive tackle Nate Solder, the incumbent at left tackle who, before deciding to opt-out of last season just before training camp started, received a phone call from Judge regarding why the team was contemplating selecting Georgia offensive tackle Andrew Thomas in that year’s draft.
The other involves receiver Sterling Shepard, who heard from his head coach not long after the team decided to draft receiver Kadarius Toney in the first round of this year’s draft.
“I do think there's merit to talking to your older veteran leaders on the team when add someone to their position and just clarifying who you're bringing in and what the immediate plan is for that player would be,” Judge said.
“To me, it's important to understand that, look, we're bringing players in to help this program. The better each player plays, the more it helps each player on the team. So we don't look at any player in this program coming in, you know, as a threat or a placement. We look to go ahead and breed competition as program and the best players will play.”
The Quest for Perfection
Judge is a realist who understands that the NFL is a results-oriented business and that if a team doesn’t win, ultimately it comes back to the head coach.
Rather than accept the status quo, Judge has ensured that just as the roster continues to evolve each year, so must the coaching staff.
That’s why, after the Giants offense finished 31st in scoring last season, instead of simply blaming it on the players or on what he didn’t have, Judge made sure the coaching staff took its share of the blame.
He shuffled some of the duties of his offensive assistants, bumping Freddie Kitchens, last year’s tight ends coach, to a senior offensive assistant role. He also hired Pat Flaherty, Tom Coughlin’s offensive line coach, to serve as a consultant role, which undoubtedly includes providing input into the development of the team’s still young and developing offensive line.
While he intends to do everything within the organization's best interest, there’s not a day that goes by when the detail-minded head coach doesn’t dissect right down to the smallest detail the decisions he makes and the actions and consequences that ensue.
“Personally, I'm a pretty harsh critic on myself,” he said when asked how he can get better. “I go through every day and the first thing I do is make notes after every practice of things that I feel I can do better and after every game,” he said.
“Am I making sure the players are fully understanding this? Are we handling the time allotted for meetings as efficiently as possible? I'm trying to manage the time and efficiency the best I can for the team, but internally, there's always a thousand things I'm looking to improve.”
As far as Judge is concerned, improvement is an ongoing process that will continue for as long as there is breath coming from his body.
“I have my own checklist, but look I'm far from perfect and I know the things I've got to improve on,” he said. “I'm always looking to eliminate things on that list.”
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