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Joe Judge gives Big Blue View some insights into how he thinks and how his coaching philosophy was shaped in exclusive interview
On the eve of a new football season, New York Giants coach Joe Judge sat down with Big Blue View to discuss a wide array of topics. How he defines progress, learning from coaches in other sports, working for Nick Saban and Bill Belichick, why the organization supports Daniel Jones and more.
On the idea of progress
Win or lose, progress is something Judge talks about constantly. So, I asked him a two-part question about progress:
How does he define it? Is it something he sees on film, on the field, around the building?
What does progress look like in Year of his coaching tenure?
“Year 2, the same fundamentals have to build a program. We still want a smart, tough, fundamentally sound football team that can play well under pressure. That’s what we’re trying to build, and we want that to be a consistent program, but the reality is you have to start over every year. You just have to. This year’s not the same as last year, this year’s team — including the players that were here last year — are not the same team.”
“Film, field, around the building I think they’re all key parts of it. You’re always evaluating everything in your program. There were a lot of rough spots last year, and I saw a ton of progress in the individual improvement of players, in the team collectively playing together and better, thus improving and not beating ourselves,” Judge said.
“There were a lot of marks that we could show them on tape. To me, I’m always about evidence to the players. Turning the tape on after a game and show ‘em, alright, this went wrong, here’s how we correct it. Or show ‘em, hey, this is where we’ve improved, we have to keep on this track, it’s gonna pay off. They can see visual evidence of what they’ve been working on and how it shows up in games, Judge said.
“Players have to learn how to practice. There’s a way we have to practice and we really teach our players that we’re training and you have to understand how to do it on a daily basis, how each drill is different and what’s expected,” Judge said. “To be honest with you, there was a point last year where I remember [quarterbacks coach] Jerry Schuplinski walking over and saying ‘hey, you know what, we’re practicing a lot better.’ … That’s kinda when we started going on our winning streak, that part of the year … It directly ties in, you can show that to the players. You see how we practice and you see how it carried over into the game, and they understand that there is a reason for everything, and there’s a reason we’re so particular on the details of it.”
In the building:
“Progress of developing a team and a culture, seeing how players hold each other accountable and understanding that how they prepare away from the building and seeing how it carries over into guys studying together, working together … you see the progress of guys really working to build something and not just doing what’s required, checking the box.”
On how he is trying to be better
Judge considers himself a teacher, and we talked about what he needs to do in order to become a better one.
“I’m always looking to improve. I spend a large part of the offseason not only researching the Xs and Os of football and watching the league and getting ready for the draft, but I spend a large part of it talking to different coaches on different levels, different sports and visiting with different leaders,” Judge said. “Talking to guys who lead Fortune 500 companies and having the opportunity to talk to some military leaders, and everything coming back to the same principles of how do you get your, whether it’s company, your military unit, your team, how do you get them to keep advancing? What are some roadblocks you’ve hit, how do you find ways through that?
“How have you created adversity for your team to overcome before they hit the real adversity in competition?” I’ve read a good bit of books, which sometimes you get good advice from that but I always prefer talking to people.
Judge did not offer names, but said he finds the insight of basketball coaches particularly useful.
“To me it’s very interesting when you talk to guys from other sports. I think we talk to guys, football coaches, all the time. To me it’s very interesting talking to basketball coaches. To be honest with you, a lot of the basketball coaches are dealing with a younger generation of player. They get to college younger. They have to play sooner. They get to the NBA younger. They have to player sooner. How they’ve dealt with the younger generation coming up, what are some of the differences they’ve seen, and then also the interaction with the young players and the older players,” Judge said. “I think it’s important to understand really the generations of players we’re coaching. Right now we’re really dealing with guys in the league are really the Millennials and Generation Z and that’s a, there’s a contrast is some of that, to be honest with you.
“If you understand the generation it doesn’t make anyone a good person or a bad person, but there are differences in terms of the time periods that these guys really develop and they really form their personalities, and you have to understand how to get to all your players.”
On what Judge hopes players take from him
Of course, every football coach wants his players and his team to improve so that games can be won. In terms of teaching, though, many of us have that special teacher we remember long after we have left school.
“I think that all comes down to just being open and honest with your teammates. Not everyone’s going to be friends, not everyone’s going to chum it up or hang out outside the building, but I do think any aspect of an organization everybody can have a good working relationship if you’re very open, very honest, very direct, if you’re accountable for your own work and actions and you put the team first,” Judge said.
“When you’re open and honest and you’re willing to have tough conversations that’s what naturally builds the leadership … we’ve gotta build it across all areas of our organization but that’s something to me that just helps the overall development of the person and to be honest with you is it just players? No. I’m trying to do the same thing with my sons, my daughters. Trying to get them to learn to look someone in the eye when they shake someone’s hand and give open, honest answers and be willing to own up when you screw something up. I just think that’s very important across the board. It shouldn’t be a skill, but it’s a skill today that goes underdeveloped. Whether it’s because of technology people don’t learn how to speak directly to people and form relationships.”
Learning ALL of the ropes
Judge, of course, hasn’t always been a head coach or a big-time NFL assistant. He was a graduate assistant, which is pretty much as low as you can go on the coaching ladder. He was a Division III assistant coach, where he said “you wear every hate possible.” Including cutting the grass and lining the field. As a kid, he swept floors in a restaurant.
“I think I’ve been fortunate to be able to do so many different roles as I’ve been able to work up,” Judge said. “Being a grad assistant where you do all the grunt work, where you’re the low man on the totem pole I guess it’s kinda like learning how to run a company by starting in the mailroom. You learn all the jobs on the way up.
“Look, I worked in an Italian restaurant my entire life growing up. I started out sweeping floors, folding pizza boxes and taking trash out and eventually I was working in the kitchen and I worked thru all the different stations and I went to the counter and I started making pizzas, kinda kept doing different things and you learned every aspect and then all of a sudden you realized how the whole restaurant functions.”
Through all of that he has gained both knowledge of and respect for the roles everyone plays.
“I understand fully when I talk to the field crew, yeah, I know exactly what to do to line a field, I’ve cut grass, I’ve done all that. I’m not saying I’m the expert they are, but I understand what they’re working with. I’ve been the video coordinator. I understand when I go down to the video room and they have an issue, this is how we can fix it. Or, this comes up sometimes. How do we adapt to it?,” Judge said.
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with those different roles, which helps me appreciate everyone’s role in the organization. I think the thing I’ve learned from that ultimately is everybody’s role is critical. There are no small roles, and you realize how critical it is when one of those roles isn’t coming through and handling their business.”
Learning at the feet of the masters
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Judge has had the great fortune of working for Nick Saban at Alabama and Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, perhaps the greatest current coaches at each of their respective levels.
“When I worked for Coach Saban, or actually when he offered me the job, he kept talking about developing coaches, developing coaches and that was really the first time I had heard that and when I had the opportunity to work for him then I really started understanding what he was talking about,” Judge said. “Giving you more responsibility and bringing you along the way and being very demanding, making sure that all your work was very detailed and specific because you had to get out there and make sure that everything was covered and that no player was at a position where they didn’t have an answer to something.”
“Look, I wore a lot of different hats in New England that don’t show up in a resume sheet or don’t show up in some kind of a bio, and those things all helped me along the way. Everything from being responsible for organizing locker rooms, making sure the team had exposure to different teams or dealing with the dining crew and making sure I write out schedules for the girls that are working in the dining hall. Or helping work with the menus to make sure that our players are getting Mexican on certain days and Italian on certain days because that’s what they like,” Judge said. “Things that at the time you kinda get it put on your plate and you think ‘is this really something that’s important?’ and then you find out after that the fact that really helped me understand everything along way and it was just very critical.”
I mentioned to Judge that I had listened to a podcast co-hosted by Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay, and that it surprised me a current NFL head coach would co-host a show. I also mentioned the fantastic insights he shares on the Judge Report during the season, where he breaks down film and answers queries from Bob Papa.
“Be honest with you, just in general, I just love talkin’ ball … anytime I get a chance to talk ball I just love it. When we do the Bob Papa Report that’s fun to me because, hey, you just talk ball for a minute and that’s always enjoyable to me. I wouldn’t rule anything out. I don’t necessarily know that I’m going to be doing any podcasts, I don’t see that in any immediate future,” Judge said.
“Anytime we can talk ball I love it … that’s why me and [defensive coordinator] Pat Graham and a couple of the other guys get along so well. None of us really have hobbies. I guess we’re all kinda football junkies, it’s what we love to do.”
At the mention of Graham, I asked Judge kiddingly if he even recognized Graham after the defensive coordinator dropped a considerable amount of weight this offseason.
“How great does he look? I told him the other day he walked over and I just looked at him and I said ‘you don’t look like yourself.’ He goes ‘good.’ He’s been doing great. Pat’s been doing phenomenal,” Judge said.
Turns out, Graham had a partner in his weight loss endeavors. Judge admitted packing on some pounds during the 2020 season, blaming the idea of eating too much junk food late at night “because I forgot to eat.”
“We kinda tried to hit it hard this offseason with Fitz [Director of Strength and Performance Craig Fitzgerald] down there in the weight room. It was one of those deals after the season I turned around, I looked at my wife [Amber], I said OK, I’ll get back in shape, don’t worry,” Judge said.
“I don’t think you’re going to do a double take [when you see me], but I think she was happier with the way I looked by the end of the spring than from the end of the season.”
Daniel Jones and the idea of “greatness”
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As much as I mostly shied away from questions about individual players, I had to ask Judge about the quote former New York Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum gave me this offseason regarding Daniel Jones.
“At some point greatness is gonna show up. Let’s go! Take the team over and show that you’re a great quarterback,” Tannenbaum said. “There’s always going to be excuses … I think he’s flashed, but at some point we need to see it multiple weeks in a row.”
In light of that quote, I asked Judge what he saw from Jones that either showed him greatness or showed him that there was greatness within the third-year quarterback.
“What I always look for is improvement on a daily basis and the work ethic and commitment to make that consistent improvement. The thing I look at with Daniel is this guy has improved throughout the first year we’ve been together. I’ve watched how he’s worked this offseason, made improvements, and his command, his presence, the way he’s handling the offense, the way he’s really growing within the role,” Judge said. “These are things that to me are a lot more important for quarterbacks than just stats. The only stats we really care about are wins and losses here.
“For me, it’s always important to stay in the moment and stay very present in what you’re doing. Everyone has long term goals and we can throw out words, greatness, things of that nature, but I think all the people who have ever really accomplished things are really more focused on the present and what they’re doing day by day.”
Judge then went further, explaining why Jones has the respect of his teammates and coaches.
“He’s a guy that understands the process and he comes to work every day and he’s fully committed to doing it, and that shows up in how he works and prepares and that’s why the team really respects him. Players don’t respect people who don’t put in the work. You can recognize someone has talent. At this level you don’t respect people who don’t work. He really has the team’s respect because they see how hard he works in the building, outside the building, on the field and it all carries over and I keep seeing improvement. We all keep seeing improvement so, you know, we’ll go with him,” Judge said.
“It’s a microwave culture. Everyone wants immediate results all the way across the board and the reality is every player in this league needs to be able to come in and grow. He’s still a young player, but he’s maturing. He’s got a very mature work ethic and preparation and that’s why we enjoy working with him and why we’re excited about him.”
Working with Dave Gettleman
Judge, 39, and Gettleman, 70, can be looked at as an odd couple. A young head coach a d a grizzled GM with vastly different experiences. Could they work together? Could they find common ground?
To be completely honest with you, I come from kind of a eclectic background. I’ve been fortunate in my life to have experiences with all types of people from different walks, different personalities and backgrounds,” Judge said.
“One thing I was taught at a young age is you treat everyone with respect and you value people based on merit. I see myself as someone who can really work with anybody. I have no problem putting up with players or staff members or co-workers or GMs or whoever it is with different personalities or different backgrounds or different ages. That doesn’t bother me at all. At all. To me it’s all of our job to work together. Everyone who walks through that door, every player, coach, staff member, front office, doesn’t matter, we all have one thing we have to do every day and that’s put the team first. I think we all need to just keep the focus on what we have to do for the team. When that’s in mind you can put aside any kind of gaps, age differences, whatever it is, and then work together.”
In talking more about Gettleman, Judge returned to a familiar theme — understanding where the Giants want to go and what it will take to get there.
“It’s very important for me everyone understands what our mission at hand is and what we’re building as a coaching staff, and the kind of players that we need to get going forward. That’s a process that takes time. It’s not Fantasy Football. You’ve gotta have the ability to bring in guys and the ability to develop them over time as well. If you get the right guys, the right mental makeup and they have ability then you have an opportunity to build something,” Judge said.
“It goes back to that whole microwave culture thing. My focus is always day by day because I understand people want to have expectations on the outside and that’s fine, I’ve got expectations myself and very high standards with every player in this organization, every coach on this staff. We’ve gotta make sure that we do each day and that we just keep winning each day and that’s going to pay off long term where we’re going.”