MOBILE, Ala. – Interviewing a head coach isn't just a hunt for the right person. It's a search for the right people.
The most important thing an incoming coach, such as Joe Judge, will do when taking over is build a staff. It is a topic at the top of every interview with management, and Judge's plan for his first staff more than satisfied the top brass.
"It's going to be critical that he builds the right staff, because again, he's a first-year head coach," team president John Mara said after Judge's introductory press conference. "Having experienced people on both sides of the ball is going to be critical."
Judge's vision has started to come into focus.
Late last week, he announced the three most significant members of his coaching staff: coordinators Jason Garrett (offense), Patrick Graham (defense) and Thomas McGaughey (special teams). Graham will also serve as assistant head coach.
Judge completed that work at team headquarters. He is currently in Mobile for the Senior Bowl, a college all-star game that doubles as a job fair within coaching circles. Here, Judge has continued his interviewing process, spending his days in and out of hotel conference rooms with potential hires. There has been a parade of names mentioned in the media, but the only thing confirmed so far is that Judge will not rush the process.
"I'm taking my time," he said Wednesday morning. "There are a lot of names that have been popping up in the paper that may or may not have been discussed with or interviewed or talked to. There are a lot of guys. I'm doing my homework. Before I talk to someone in person, I've made at least 50 phone calls on a guy, even if it's someone I know directly and have a working relationship. I want to talk to players they've coached. I want to talk to coaches they've worked with. I want to talk to coaches they've gone against. I want to know what kind of multiples and problems they present for opponents.
"Look, I'm taking my time. One thing I don't want to have to do is turn around after this year and make too many changes. I don't want to do that. I'm not bringing anybody into this organization to change. So, I'm going to take my time on the front end, and I'm going to make sure we get the right guys in here."
Judge made it clear from the get-go that he wants teachers, not presenters who look "fancy in front of the screen that can say it with a lot of different sales lines." He also said at his introduction that he doesn't want anyone with "alternative agendas," which raised a question about Garrett, a former AP NFL Coach of the Year who won three NFC East titles in nine full seasons leading the Dallas Cowboys.
"I hope everybody on our staff has options to advance their career at some point," Judge said. "That means business is good. We want our coaches to be wanted by other people; that means we are doing a good job here. Coach Graham, Coach Garrett, T-Mac these are all guys who are very well-respected throughout the league for what they do. They are going to bring a tremendous amount of value to the organization, bring a tremendous amount of value to me personally. I am very lucky to have all three in the building, I look forward to working with them. Definitely there is no one I am going to bring into the building that is going to have agendas. If there is division in the coaches, it's going to go right to the locker room and you cannot win with a divided locker room."
Vision for the offense
Garrett, a longtime backup quarterback in the NFL who had a stint with the Giants in the early 2000s, is inheriting a Giants offense that finished 21st in yards last season. He left a Dallas offense that ranked first, marking the eighth time the Cowboys finished in the top 10 with Garrett as either coordinator or head coach. They were second in 2007 and 2009, 10th in 2010 and 2013, sixth in 2012, seventh in 2014 and fifth in 2016.
"Well, first thing we want to be able to do is run the ball," Judge said. "He's done it successfully in Dallas throughout the course of his career. Jason brings with him a lot of experience in a lot of different systems. One thing he's been able to do is draw from his experience as both a player and a coach in different systems, and really create a player-friendly system that creates multiples within game plans. That's what I want to build as the base for this team.
"It's important to me that we get this right, that we build the base of this offense correctly for the young players we have in this organization. That's for all the ones you're thinking about. The skill players, the offensive line, we have to build a foundation this year. This isn't about a quick fix. This isn't about getting somebody in here who has some magic solution or some sexy offensive name in the paper in terms of what they would be running. This is about finding someone who's consistently performed, who's got the most out of his players, different players, over the course of time in different circumstances. We can lay that base for our players to build off for years to come."
What does Graham's added title entail?
In addition to running the defense, Graham will serve as assistant head coach.
"Pat's going to handle a lot duties within the building," Judge said. "I think it is just reflective of what we expect him to carry throughout the organization in terms of implementing both the culture and the principles of the organization."
Judge and Graham go back to their Patriots days in New England. There, they also had ties with Dolphins head coach Bian Flores, who hired Graham to be his defensive coordinator in 2019.
"It was great opportunity for Pat and it was a great opportunity for us to get Pat," Judge said. "You go through the official process with the NFL rules. You put the sheet in and you go through different things. I'm lucky it worked out and we were able to get him here. Obviously, you have a short list after that, you wait on your first guy and then you have your pecking order you can go right on down the way with. Ultimately, you want to work with guys you have relationships with professionally and personally. You know what to expect. This, to us, was a home run hire."