The hire of Joe Judge as head coach of the New York Football Giants has been the surprise of the offseason coaching cycle.
There weren’t that many people who knew who Judge was before Tuesday unless you happened to be at one of the stops in his odyssey.
Judge was born on New Year’s Eve 1981 in Philadelphia. He was a star quarterback at Lansdale (Pa.) Catholic High School who would matriculate at Mississippi State. He dreamed of playing QB in the Southeastern Conference but this would not be. Instead, he the team’s holder, the last line of protection of punts. This position would put him on the path to becoming the NFL’s third-youngest head coach just a week after his 38th birthday.
“I saw a young version of (Pittsburgh Steelers head coach) Mike Tomlin in him when I first met him,” Tampa Bay Buccaneers special teams coordinator Amos Jones said. Jones was a Mississippi State assistant coach during Judge’s senior year. “I took an instant liking to Mike when I met him as a 24-year-old drawing up plays on napkins, and when I got to Joe, I saw that same kind of football intelligence and general want-to-be-great at whatever he is doing.”
Jones persuaded Bulldogs head coach Sylvester Croom to hire Judge as a graduate assistant.
“I put him right in charge of drills where you are coaching players you just played with—some of them you probably drank a beer with at the local establishment,” Jones said. “But Joe never wavered. He was able to handle that without any problem at all. That’s how (former Alabama head) Coach (Bear) Bryant tested me when I started. That’s how we tested Joe.
“He had no problem with letting them know when they were right or wrong, but he isn’t going to lose his cool just to prove a point. Like Mike Tomlin, he is going to teach you how to be the right kind of player.”
Judge spent three seasons (2009-11) as a special teams assistant at Alabama. The Crimson Tide won BCS National Championships in 2009 and 2011.
“Joe and I worked together for three years when he was an assistant at Alabama,” Georgia head coach Kirby Smart said. “He was high energy, had great attention to detail, and was always wanting to learn more about all aspects of the game. He’s been recognized for a while as an up and coming coach and I think the Giants are a great fit for him and he’s a great fit for the Giants.”
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Judge also received a ringing endorsement from Nick Saban.
“Joe did a fantastic job for our program early on in our tenure in Tuscaloosa,” Saban said in a statement. “He went on to have a lot of success on Bill’s (Belichick) staff in New England (Patriots). Joe is one of the brightest young coaches in our profession, and I think he will do a tremendous job as head coach of the New York Giants.”
Speaking of Belichick and the Patriots, they brought Judge on board in 2012. Belichick places an enormous value on special teams. The fact that he entrusted it to such a young coach speaks volumes. The fact that the notoriously tight-lipped Belichick heaped praise on Judge is also noteworthy.
“One of the best coaches I have been around,” Belichick said. “he has been responsible for coaching units comprised of nearly every player on the roster. That requires an ability to handle many moving parts, make constant adjustments and immediate decisions.”
Belichick added coaching the wide receivers to Judge’s duties to make him a more attractive candidate. He called Giants ownership to recommend Judge before he was offered the job to succeed Pat Shurmur. Judge was being monitored even before the head coaching position became available.
“I saw when he left Alabama…and then ends up on New England’s staff. I said, ‘Wait a second. There has got to be something to this guy’,” Giants co-owner John Mara said. “He’s gone from Alabama. Obviously, Bill and him must’ve talked. Nick is not going to send Bill any dogs. One of the things 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 was blown away by Judge, who once taught kindergarten and is working towards his Ph.D. The Giants were rumored to have been interested in former Baylor head coach Matt Rhule. Rhule met with the Carolina Panthers, who made him the sixth highest coach in the NFL. Rhule was scheduled to meet with the Giants on Tuesday but they this did not happen after the Giants told Rhule’s agent the team would not match the Panthers’ seven-year, $60 million deal.