EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Newly hired New York Giants coach Joe Judge isn’t Bill Belichick or Nick Saban. He just worked under them.
Judge might be bringing similar ideas and values to the Giants. He still insists he’s not them, despite all the valuable lessons learned during 10 years under the two accomplished coaches.
“I think one thing people ask me a lot is, ‘You worked with Coach Saban and Coach Belichick, what makes you different?’ Look, I’m myself. I’m going to be myself every time. If I’m anything else, they’re always going to see straight through it,” Judge said after being introduced as the 19th head coach in Giants history. “If you lie to the team, you’re going to lose the team. So I’m always going to be myself, and that is a little bit different than other people. And that is fine.
“I’m not trying to emulate anyone that I’ve worked for. I’m trying to take what I’ve learned from them and will match it with my belief structure and do it in my own personality.”
This was Belichick’s only advice during the interview process: Be yourself.
Judge said it was easy. That’s all he knows how to do.
Judge, 38, became the third-youngest head coach in the NFL when the Giants made his hiring official on Wednesday. By early Thursday morning, he was hopping on co-owner Steve Tisch’s plane to get to New Jersey with his family for an introductory press conference.
The opportunity presented itself to Judge in part because he worked under Saban at the University of Alabama before joining Belichick and the New England Patriots. Judge was a football analyst/special-teams assistant during his three years in Alabama. He became the special-teams coordinator and eventually added wide receivers coach to his responsibilities during his eight seasons with the Patriots.
His path from one legendary coach to the next was being watched closely.
“I saw when he left Alabama … and then ends up on New England’s staff. I said, ‘Wait a second. There has got to be something to this guy,'” Giants co-owner John Mara said. “He’s gone from Alabama. Obviously Bill and him must’ve talked. Nick is not going to send Bill any dogs. One of the things Bill said to me was, ‘I gave this guy more and more responsibility and pretty quickly I stopped looking over his shoulder because I knew it was going to get done properly.'”
Mara said the Giants were blown away during the interview process. He considered it perhaps the best he’s ever been a part of. It made it easier to stomach not getting Baylor coach Matt Rhule in for an interview the following day. Rhule was scheduled to meet with the Giants on Tuesday, but had his agent inform them he had a seven-year deal worth up to $70 million on the table from the Carolina Panthers.
The Giants passed.
“For a new head coach in the National Football League, I just did not think that was a reasonable way to go. That’s all,” Mara said of the seven years. “And again, would we have talked about moving some parts around in that deal? Possibly, if we weren’t excited about the candidate we already had.”
Judge also had an offer from Mississippi State. That contributed to his hiring coming so quickly after his interview.
In the end, even he seemed a bit surprised to be an NFL coach at this point of his career.
“I think Bill understood I had a desire to be a head coach because of my involvement overall. I never talked about being a head coach or walked around and advertised that as a goal,” Judge said. “To be completely honest with you, I didn’t have a goal this year, specifically right now, of having to be a head coach right now. This opportunity was very unique. When I received a call from the Giants that they would like to interview me, that was very exciting. There are 32 teams in this league. That is not a lot.”
Judge brings with him many of the same beliefs that have made Belichick and Saban so successful. He specifically noted a desire to work around the strengths of his players rather than be married to scheme.
This is something that has made Belichick so unique. One week he’ll have a run-heavy team and then flip the next. Judge appears likely to do the same with the Giants.
“What I learned from Coach Belichick was real simple,” he said. “Be flexible within your personnel. Don’t try to shove round pegs into square holes. Figure out what you have. Let them play to their strengths. Don’t sit in a meeting and tell me what you don’t have in a player. Don’t tell me they can’t do a certain thing. Tell me what they can do and then we’ll figure out as coaches, because that is our job, how we can use that. That is our responsibility. Everybody has something they can do. How many castoffs you see around the league where they say, ‘Wow, how did they get that out of him?’ Maybe they just weren’t closing their eyes on what they could do.
“With that as a coaching staff that we have assembled, we have to make sure we are sitting down with each of our players, fully evaluate them and we find out what they can do to be an asset.”
The Giants aren’t just going to look like the Patriots. There is likely also going to be an Alabama influence as well.
Judge picked up plenty of things from Saban that have already been implemented in his coaching philosophy.
“What I learned from Coach Saban was it is important to address everybody not only on what they have to do but how it should look, what I need to do to get there and why it’s important,” Judge said.
He’ll bring these lessons and an admittedly old-school mentality to the Giants. They can only hope he brings similar success as well.