When the New York Giants unveiled Joe Judge as their 21st head coach, there was hope overflowing that they had finally found the man to take the franchise to its long-awaited fifth Lombardi trophy.
It was quite a leap of faith by a franchise that had misfired on its two previous choices for head coach, including Ben McAdoo (who, like Judge, had never been a head coach before at any level) and Pat Shurmur.
But something about the fresh-faced Judge convinced ownership that maybe he could be a young Bill Parcells or Tom Coughlin in the making.
That hasn't come even close to being the case.
To be fair to Judge, he's had to navigate through rough waters of not only being a first-time head coach but also through a pandemic and, then this year, through a season where his planned roster at the start of the season was replaced by a different group.
But Judge hasn't necessarily been alone in that boat, and there have been missteps he's made, some of which have been season-altering, that should he be back next year, he needs to reconsider his approaches.
Here are three of the most glaring missteps Judge needs to address if he is back next year.
Restructure How the Team Tackles Training Camp/Preseason
Any NFL coach who claims that the first game or two of the regular season is an extension of the preseason needs to take 100 laps, no questions asked.
Yes, training camps are getting shorter, and practices are under more restrictions than ever before. But if a coaching staff can't prioritize and figure out what it has and what it doesn't in the preseason, then something is wrong.
Some might say that Judge was smart in deciding to hold out injured starters and sitting the bulk of his healthy starters until the third preseason game.
As we found out, the starters and backups ended up having to mix due to injuries anyway this year. And with Judge wanting to be fair in giving everyone on the roster a chance to impress (admirable, but in the end, I question how practical that intention was), he shortchanged the team's preparation to the point where when the games counted, the team looked woefully unprepared on both sides of the ball.
And this notion of how the first few games extend the preseason? If you have a strong roster, you might be able to get away with that. When you have a roster with many question marks, you cannot, as Judge learned the hard way.
Next year, the Giants will likely have a new offensive coordinator, a new offensive line, and new tight ends, plus a returning quarterback who couldn't take the next step forward in his development.
There are no valid arguments for holding any of those healthy guys out until the third preseason game, the "dress rehearsal," if you will. Getting quality practice snaps doesn't mean a thing when those snaps are coming in an environment where putting guys on the ground is discouraged. And if nothing else, after seeing his team supposedly practice well enough to please him only to see it all fall apart on gameday, hopefully, Judge has learned that lesson.
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Generate More Competition
Even before training camp started, the offensive line seemed to be set before any kind of true competition could be held. Between Judge and outgoing general manager Dave Gettleman, they took a leap of faith that with a season in the books together, the offensive line of Andrew Thomas, Shane Lemieux, Nick Gates, Will Hernandez, and Matt Peart would further solidify.
So much for that. Yes, injuries played a part of it, but Peart, once healthy, couldn't beat out Nate Solder. Hernandez, who moved from left guard to right guard, has struggled for most of the season, and the right tackle spot has been a mess.
The offensive line is a line example, but the point is one got the impression that most of the starting jobs were set, and any competition that existed was mostly among the depth players. That's okay if a team is winning, but not when a team is looking to get on track.
One can argue that this is all about not properly evaluating talent, which is a whole other ball of wax. But I digress.
Moving forward, there needs to be more competition, especially with this roster set to undergo what should be another major overhaul. And neither contract nor draft status should govern who gets the right to start and who doesn't.
Go Outside of His Circle of Trust
Judge is set in his ways thanks to his apprenticeships under Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, two of the greatest head coaches in college and the NFL of all time, respectively. But there's something to be said about branching out of what you know, a lesson that Ben McAdoo, who spent most of his NFL career under Mike McCarthy, never learned during his tenure with the Giants.
With very few exceptions, Judge has displayed a pattern of surrounding himself with people he knows and trusts from his past.
We saw it in certain player personnel decisions, such as bringing in special teams player Nate Ebner over Michael Thomas. They also added guys like Keion Crossen (Patriots connection), Reggie Ragland (Alabama connection), and Danny Shelton (Patriots connection), and seven players with ties to the University of Georgia, coached by former Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart.
We also saw it in his selection of assistant coaches, many of whom have prior connections to Judge and his mentors. Based on Judge's original coaching staff, offensive line coach Marc Colombo, assistant offensive line coach Ben Wilkerson, receivers coach Tyke Tolbert, and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey are those believed to not have a prior connection to Judge or his mentors.
While there is something to be said about familiarity, especially for a young head coach trying to establish a solid footing, there is also the danger of your thinking collapsing into itself. If you're not trying new things or exploring new avenues for talent, how can growth be expected?
Is Judge in over his head?
At the risk of stating an unpopular opinion here, no. Ben McAdoo was in over his head for the simple reason that he oscillated between being the tough guy and being one of the guys. He ended up losing control of the locker room, the proverbial kiss of death for a head coach.
Judge, by all accounts, has not lost control of the locker room. He has been consistent with his daily management of the team and his staff and has stuck to his "team first" mantra with zero exceptions.
That all being said, it is probably fair to say Judge is still wet behind the ears as a head coach. The biggest lesson he's learning is that what worked like a charm at Alabama and New England isn't necessarily going to work here in New York, not without adjusting to what personnel he has.
The core principles might be sound, but the bottom line is that a system has to continue to evolve. Judge has a solid background from his time with Saban and Belichick. Still, the one thing he's missing is that experience of dealing with putting together a team that is a ways off of the rosters Saban and Belichick have gifted their respective fan bases with through the years.
In other words, Judge, at times, has appeared to be on Page 20 of the coaching manual before having completed Pages 1-19. The over-evaluation of talent and the head-scratching viewpoint regarding preseason are examples.
But here's the thing. If the Giants finally embrace what they are, which is a rebuilding team that, as of right now, is grossly devoid of talent at certain positions, that will go a long way toward potentially setting Judge and the organization up for brighter days ahead.