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Rookie head coach continues to impress despite unprecedented obstacles
Joe Judge continued on Friday to hit all the right notes as head coach of the New York Giants,
Judge is a 38-year-old first-time head coach dealing with an unprecedented disruption in the normal preparation for a football season caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has not only kept teams off the field but has forced organizations and coaches to deal with health-related issues they never had to think about before.
Throughout the offseason, though, Judge did not want to hear about his team being at a disadvantage compared to established teams with established coaches. That continued Friday when Judge held his first videoconference of training camp with New York media.
“We’re just not going to make any excuses for anything that comes up this season,” Judge said. “We’re all here to play and coach football, we’re here to do it well, and we’re going to put everything into it.”
The Xs and Os, installing schemes, forming relationships, evaluating players. All of that is familiar to coaches. Trying to plan around a once in a century pandemic and doing much of your work via Zoom or while trying to stay six feet apart is not. There is no playbook for that.
“I think that my job is to make sure that we’re preparing for all the possible scenarios that could come up throughout the season. It’s not only things we’ve thought of already, but things that pop up as we go. ‘Ok, what if this happens? What’s our plan in place?’ Now you do that as a football team anyway. This year, you just take into a different account with COVID and how that may affect our team or other teams as well,” Judge said.
“Right now, we have all plans for practice that will look as normal as can be. If that changes at some point, we’ll figure it out and we’ll adjust and we’ll keep on moving.”
Don’t offer Judge the idea that he could get a pass for 2020 because of the uncertain circumstances. He doesn’t want an out.
“There are unknowns in every season going in. This year is no different, it just has a different element that we haven’t dealt with before,” Judge said. “As we go, we’ll see how things change and how they shake out. Right now, we are looking to go ahead and build the strongest team we can.”
One of those unknowns, of course, is whether or not the NFL can actually pull off having a successful, full 16-game season. Major League Baseball, which has been back for just a little more than a week, is already experiencing game cancellations due to COVID-19 outbreaks, and Commissioner Rob Manfred is already warning that the league may have to shut down.
“I have a lot of trust in the plan put forth by the league. We spent a lot of time on this,” Judge said. “The thing I want to emphasize with the team is we have to make responsible decisions, all of us. What I have to think about personally is, it’s not just where I go, I know I’m at the stadium or driving to my house. I have to be conscious of where my wife and children are. Who are they around on a daily basis? What am I bringing back to the team?
“There are some sacrifices we have to make. Like I said earlier, everybody has had to make sacrifices to get to this level. If the biggest thing we have to do is for half a year wear masks around each other, distance a little bit and when we go home, be home, I think it’s a pretty fair trade off to be a part of the National Football League.”
Judge also doesn’t want to hear about the idea that he has a young team. I hadn’t realized this, but saw reference recently to the fact that only one of seven 2019 Giants’ team captains (Eli Manning, Saquon Barkley, Nate Solder, Zak DeOssie, Alec Ogletree, Antoine Bethea, Michael Thomas) remains on the roster.
“The age of a player doesn’t really ever bother me. We bring guys in to play. This isn’t like college where a young guy in the NFL is given a red shirt year,” Judge said. “You have 53 and 54 guys on your roster, you have a limited roster. Everyone has to contribute and everyone has to play.”
Is Judge the right guy?
A while back I wrote that in my view the most important thing about the 2020 season for the Giants, whatever shape it takes and whatever happens on the field, is to come out of it feeling good about their quarterback and their head coach.
Again on Friday I came away from listening to Judge — I asked no questions, just listened and tried to digest what he said — thinking that the Giants might have gotten it right when they handed the head-coaching job to a first-time head coach who wasn’t even thought to be on the radar yet when it came to the NFL’s head-coaching carousel.
The Giants have gotten the choice of head coach wrong the last two times.
Ben McAdoo sounded good when he ascended from offensive coordinator to boss. The job, though, ended up engulfing him the way the oversized suit he wore at his introductory press conference did.
Pat Shurmur is a good man and in many respects a good football coach. He spent two years in New York, though, proving that he hadn’t really learned from his mistakes with the Cleveland Browns and that he just isn’t really a winning NFL head coach.
Judge? We won’t really know, of course, until we see how the Giants perform on the field. And, to be honest, it might take a couple of seasons to really know how Judge can put a team together when he has a fair chance to do so.
Still, part of the job Judge has ascended to is reacting to and handling adversity. Nearly eight months after being hired, Judge hasn’t even yet been allowed to gather his full team in one place. He has already handled more than a rookie head coach’s fair share of adversity, and seems to be doing it well.
Whatever happens this season, right now you have to be optimistic that the Giants may finally have the right head coach in place.