MOBILE, Ala. – Offensive coordinators coach offensive players. Defensive coordinators coach defensive players. Special teams coordinators coach everyone. That is why Joe Judge is set up for success, according to former Patriots colleague and current Lions coach Matt Patricia.
Judge, who was hired two weeks ago to be the Giants' 19th head coach in franchise history, joined the Patriots in 2012 as the team's assistant special teams coach, a position he held for three years. He was elevated to special teams coordinator in 2015 and was given the additional responsibility of coaching the wide receivers in 2019.
"Offensively and defensively, a lot of times we're just working with our side of the ball, coaching our side of the ball, unless you've cross-trained at all," said Patricia, whose Lions staff is at the Senior Bowl this week coaching the North Team. "He, from day one, hits the entire team. So, he's very much so used to being up in front of everybody, commanding the room that way, drawing their interest, their respect, and trying to get players to play better. So, from that aspect, when you see that and you see his natural ability to do that in front of the room, you say, 'OK, this guy can handle coaching an entire team.'"
Prior to Detroit, Patricia showed his coaching versatility by serving in diverse roles in his 14 years with the Patriots, including linebackers coach, assistant offensive line and coaching assistant. The Giants were drawn to his resume and interviewed Patricia for their last head coach vacancy in 2018. He eventually ended up in Detroit, and now Judge is in his shoes as the latest of Bill Belichick's assistants to become head coach.
The hardest part, Patricia said, is not living up to one of the most accomplished coaches in the history of sports. It's walking into a new building and establishing a culture. Belichick has done it for 20 years in New England, eight of which included Judge.
"There's just a lot of things that come up that are a challenge," said Patricia, who went 6-10 in his first year with the Lions and 3-12-1 in his second while his quarterback missed half of the season. "A lot of them you really don't know what they are because you just haven't experienced it, you haven't seen it, you don't understand what it is. There may be something that doesn't exist in the prior place that you were at. So, I would say that unknown factor of walking into a new building and trying to identify, what are the challenges for that organization? There is obviously a reason that you're there. There's a reason they brought you in. If it was an organization that didn't need a lot of change or didn't need some improvement, then you probably wouldn't be there.
"Honestly, depending on when you start that process, it takes a long time to figure it out. There's a lot of things that pop up that you just, you know, you look at and say, 'OK, this isn't really how we want to do things. This isn't necessarily the direction we want to go,' or 'These are the areas we really need to get better at quickly in order to help this team.' It's not all the same answer, it's different everywhere, but it's all the same kind of underlying example of they are there for a reason and that's because there are things that need to change and things that need to be fixed. Because if there wasn't, then you probably wouldn't be there."
Judge is one of four former Belichick assistants currently serving as NFL head coaches. The others are Houston's Bill O'Brien, Miami's Brian Flores and, of course, Patricia. Additionally, Mike Vrabel, whose Titans made it to the AFC Championship Game, won three Super Bowls as a player for Belichick. Meanwhile, Judge also hired Patrick Graham to be his assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. Graham began his NFL coaching career in New England and served on staffs with Judge and Patricia.
As the coaching tree continues to branch out, Patricia was asked if it becomes harder this time of year because they are all looking for the same types of players.
"No, I think we all have different avenues of guys that we are looking for based on the teams we're involved with or taking over, and what are important to build those particular teams," he said. "I'm just excited for all of those guys, happy for everybody with the opportunities that are in front of them. Obviously, Flo (Flores) and Joe, just to go out and have that chance to be successful and do something on their own to build and create and put a team together that's going to go out and be competitive. Certainly, all of the different organizations have their own challenges, that's why those guys are there. But they'll do a great job."
View photos of Joe Judge's first day after being named head coach of the New York Giants.
During his introductory press conference, Judge said that Belichick's only parting advice was to be himself.
"And that's all I know how to be," said Judge, who coached for another legendary coach in Nick Saban at Alabama. "I think one of the things people ask me a lot is, 'You worked for Coach Saban, Coach Belichick, what makes you different?' Look, I'm myself. I'm going to be myself every time. If I'm anything else, everyone's going to see straight through it. And if you lie to the team, you're going to lose the team immediately."
Iconic head coaches weren't Judge's only mentors. Judge joined the Patriots as assistant special teams coach in 2012 and was promoted to special teams coach following Scott O'Brien's retirement in 2015. O'Brien
"I have never worked with a coach better than Scott O'Brien," Belichick said at the time. "Scott is second to none at preparation, strategy, teaching, techniques, fundamentals, scouting and virtually any other aspect of teambuilding, game planning or player development that exists in football. … Scott O'Brien is undoubtedly one of the finest coaches of his generation."
From there, Judge branched out and invested in learning all three phrases of the game. He tacked on wide receivers to his coaching duties in his last season with the Patriots.
"He spent a lot of time learning about the roster, how to build that, how to put a team together," Patricia said. "So, I'm excited for him. I think it's a great opportunity, it's obviously a great organization, and there will be challenges that come up that are unique for him and his position, but certainly things that we've talked about already that just are things that you have to be ready to experience as a first-time head coach."