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Inside the decision to hire Joe Judge

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – Joe Judge changed jobs after the 2011 football season.

Soon after his 30th birthday, he left his position as a special teams assistant coach at the University of Alabama to take the same title with the New England Patriots. The move was one of dozens made every offseason by collegiate and professional coaches who switch positions for a myriad of reasons. It was not a transaction that earned a mention on Sportscenter, a headline in a major newspaper or caught the attention of most fans. The Patriots didn't announce Judge's arrival until May 10, long after he had hunkered down in his office in One Patriot Place.

But an influential NFL figure in East Rutherford took notice of Judge's move.

"We talk in the office all the time about who the next bright, young coaches are," Giants president and chief executive officer John Mara said. "I knew he was at Alabama. When I saw him go to New England's staff … when you train under Nick Saban and then you end up on Bill Belichick's staff, that's something you take notice of. That's how he got on our radar."

Nobody could have known then but those were the first baby steps toward the Giant – pardon the pun – leap Judge took today, when he was introduced as the franchise's 19th head coach at a MetLife Stadium news conference.

Judge spent the last eight years with the Patriots, the last four as the special teams coordinator. In 2019, he also coached the wide receivers. New England earned a playoff berth in each of those eight seasons, advanced to the AFC Championship Game in the first seven, and played in four Super Bowls, winning three.

When the Giants dismissed Pat Shurmur after two seasons on Dec. 30, they quickly included Judge on their list of potential replacements. Last Saturday, the Patriots lost a wild card playoff game to Tennessee. Less than 36 hours later, Judge was at the Quest Diagnostics Training Center interviewing with Mara, general manager Dave Gettleman and vice president of football operations Kevin Abrams. He later met separately with team chairman Steve Tisch.

None of them had previously met Judge, who was considered a long shot to land the job. 

"If you had asked me a week ago, 10 days ago, I would have said that probably would have been a long shot," Mara said. "But that's why you have to go into these things open-minded. You don't know what's going to come out of the interviews, you don't know how you're going to connect with people, you don't know how they're going to respond to your questions."

Mara said he spoke to Belichick, the defensive coordinator on the Giants' first two Super Bowl teams, "several times over the weekend." He received extremely positive recommendations.

"One thing 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.

Judge was the fifth coach interviewed by the Giants. Once he was in the building, Mara and Co. knew they had their next coach.

"I would say it was a little more than halfway through (the interview)," Mara said. "To be honest with you, I went into the interview not really expecting all that much, just because I didn't really know him. I certainly knew of him. But the more we went on, the more impressive he became. When we finished, I looked at Dave and Kevin, and we were ecstatic. We said 'This is our guy. This has got to be our guy.' He just had a certain poise. He didn't have any notes with him. He just was so confident and poised and had such great knowledge about how to build a winning program. What they did in New England, what they've done at Alabama, the people he's been around, his beliefs, his philosophies. He checked all of the boxes for us."

Tisch and Gettleman were equally enthusiastic.

"Once Joe walked into the room with John, Dave and Kevin, they were impressed," Tisch said. "I met Joe 24 hours later. I had the advantage, in some ways, of being one-on-one with Joe, and it was fantastic spending over two hours with Joe. I learned a lot about football in those two hours Joe and I talked. He's a student of football, he's a teacher of football, and I just love that he's sort of on both sides of the table, both sides of the ball. His enthusiasm, his energy and his passion for this game are contagious. I left that meeting just so pumped about how excited I am that Joe is our head coach. The players are going to love him. They're going to put a great staff together. I think the fans are really going to see a very dynamic, powerful, passionate leader. It's very, very exciting."

"He's coached under and learned from two of the iconic current coaches at Alabama and New England," Gettleman said. "You know he's learned. He's won five championships in 10 years (including two BCS titles with the Crimson Tide). You have to know what it feels like, looks like, and smells like to get it done, and he has that piece. Just his knowledge, the wealth of information that he has, where he's going.

"He said he came with the mentality that he was just going to have a conversation. That truly was what it (the interview) was. It was like a bunch of guys talking ball. It was easy for him. He knew exactly what he wanted, where he wanted to go, and how he wanted to get there."  

Mara concedes the decision to hire Judge is not without hazards. Judge, after all, is a 38-year-old first-time head coach in the nation's largest media market, tasked with resurrecting a team that has lost an NFL-high 36 games the last three seasons.

"There are always risks when you hire a coach who's never been a head coach before," Mara said. "I'm just excited about what he brings to the table here. He has a certain poise and presence about him. You guys (reporters) have pointed out the last couple of years that I've had a lot of experience interviewing coach candidates. I'm just telling you, that's the best interview I've ever been a part of right now for a lot of different reasons. When you train under Nick Saban and then you end up on Bill Belichick's staff, that's something you take notice of. He's obviously had great training, a great background. He's used to winning, he knows what winning looks like, and we're excited to have him here.

"I understand we've lost some credibility in that regard because the last two hires haven't worked out. But I think that this guy is unique, and we're going to have to prove it. We're going to have to win their (the fans') trust back by winning games. It's up to us to show a little more patience with this coach than perhaps we have over the last few years because he is a first-time head coach. But I think he has everything that you need to be successful."

For the Giants, that's a great place to start.

On the one-year anniversary, view photos of Joe Judge's first day after being named head coach of the New York Giants.


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