The Key Lessons Joe Judge Learned from the Schools of Belichick and Saban
At times during his football coaching career, Giants head coach Joe Judge must have felt like a kid in a candy store with an unlimited pass.
What better way to describe his experiences in being able to sit in meetings run by two of the greatest head coaches of their generation, Nick Saban, currently the head coach at Alabama, and Bill Belichick, the New England Patriots long-time future Hall of Fame head coach?
“There wasn’t a day I went to work that I didn’t come home with a full new education and I knew fully every day that there were coaches out there that would pay thousands of dollars to sit in a staff meeting and just hear the wisdom they were saying on a daily basis,” Judge said with a smile.
But besides being able to boast about having the opportunity, Judge has taken that knowledge that extends beyond the Xs and Os and made such a strong impression on Giants ownership that Giants team president John Mara described Judge’s interview as “perhaps the best coach interview that I have ever been a part of.”
Judge won over the Giants brass all by his lonesome, but he acknowledged that the lessons from Belichick and Saban were priceless in helping him grow as a leader and teacher.
“Both have a very unique style about them. Both have a world of knowledge. Both have a lot of the same philosophical views, and a lot of the same values,” Judge said.
Values such as hard work, attention to detail, and not taking shortcuts—all things that Judge mentioned throughout his half-hour introductory press conference—are important to building a winning football program.
Watch: Giants head coach Joe Judge talks about how he plans to be a teacher in his new role and how he wants his staff to approach teaching.
Then there are the specific lessons that Judge acquired from each legendary head coach, such as how to look at the broad picture to ensure buy-in across the board.
“What I learned from Coach Saban is it’s important to address everybody, not only on what they have to do, but how it should look--what we’re going to do to get there, and why it’s important,” Judge said.
“What you find out when you’re coaching players, they’re not robots, and if they understand what the end result is supposed to look like and why it’s important, normally those players are going to take the principles you instilled in them and in the game make a player’s adjustment, and you’re going to learn more from the players than they are as a coach because they’re going to find a better way to do it in the heat of the moment with a certain adjustment.”
That point is vital because all too often, players are asked to do things that don’t quite make sense to them, or they don’t understand.
Absent that understanding, those players either revolt or remain close-minded to what’s being asked because they aren’t on the same page with the coaching staff.
Then there is the Belichick lesson, which is so simple it's brilliant.
“Be flexible within your personnel,” he said. “Don’t try to shove round pegs into square holes. Figure out what you have. Let them play to their strengths.”
Therein lies another problem the Giants have had in the past, which is limiting players to specific roles or worse yet, asking them to do things for which their skill set isn’t a fit all for the sake of supporting a system.
Judge, who is in the early stages of assembling his coaching staff, said he wants teachers who focus on what each player offers rather than what they lack.
“Tell me what they can do, and then we’ll figure out as coaches how we can use that,” he said. “Everybody has something they can do.
“How many castoffs do you see around the league in the NFL on another team that everyone says, ‘Wow, how’d they get that out of them?’ Maybe they weren’t closing their eyes to what they could do. We have to, as a coaching staff when we get assembled, make sure we’re sitting down, we’re patient with our players, we fully evaluate them, we find out what they can do to be an asset, and that we’re not foolish enough to not use them.”
These lessons all sound elementary, yet in the current NFL world where coaches are given restrictions regarding how much time and in what capacity they can spend with players, thinking outside the box to promote buy-in from all corners of the locker room is more important now than ever, especially for a Giants team that is looking to start giving its fan base something to cheer about.