“Don’t tell me what a player can’t do, tell me what he can do.”
You might think I’m quoting New York Giants head coach Joe Judge from his introductory press conference, but I’m not.
I’m actually quoting one of the very first lessons the Scouting Academy teaches it’s students, of which I am one. It’s one of the first things Dan Hatman says to students, and it’s echoed by Louis Riddick and former Chicago Bears GM Jerry Angelo. It pops up again when focus is narrowed to specific position groups.
It’s easy to point out a player’s flaws and say they can’t do something. It’s also less useful for evaluation and roster building because scouts will only rarely be able to find a player with the perfect traits and abilities to exactly fit what coaches would prefer to do. Instead, every team has to play the hand it is dealt.
That means finding out what a player can do, and putting him in position to do it.
Or, as Judge said:
What I learned from Coach Belichick was real simple — be flexible within your personnel. Don’t try to shove round pegs into square holes. Figure out what you have. Let them play to their strengths. Don’t sit in a meeting and tell me what you don’t have in a player. Don’t tell me they can’t do certain things, tell me what they can do and then we’ll figure out as coaches, because that’s our job, how we can use that. That’s our responsibility. Everybody has something they can do. How many castoffs do you see around the league in the NFL on another team that everyone says, ‘Wow, how’d they get that out of them?’ Maybe they just weren’t closing their eyes to what they could do. We have to, as a coaching staff when we get assembled, we have to make sure we’re sitting down, we’re patient with our players, we fully evaluate them, we find out what they can do to be an asset, and that we’re not foolish enough to not use them.
An astute observer of the NFL will realize that is much easier said than done — after all, there’s only one Belichick. He’s won championships with a 3-4 defense, a 4-3 defense, and a hybrid defense, a receiver-heavy spread offense as well as with an offense based on tight ends. Only John Harbaugh has come close to matching that level of intellectual humility and flexibility.
The above quote was the second time Judge mentioned being flexible with regards to personnel. He dropped this nugget in response to the previous question:
Our philosophy is going to be to put pressure on the opponent to prepare for multiple things. Within that, we have to have personnel versatility and we have to have flexibility schematically to make sure that whoever we play, we can adjust our game plan to maximize our strengths versus their weaknesses. So, while there may be some games that we throw the ball 50 times, there’s going to be other times we may throw it 10 times and run the ball 45 times.
It would be somewhat ironic — and fitting — if after college and NFL teams have gone through about a half-dozen of Darth Hoodie’s offensive and defensive assistants looking for “The Next Belichick,” the team where Belichick got his start was the one who found him, and it was a little-known special teams coach.
If I’m being honest, I’m taking a “wait and see” approach with Judge. I’m not pessimistic on him at all, but to quote the choruses of two of my favorite songs:
I’ll tip my hat to the new constitution
Take a bow for the new revolution
Smile and grin at the change all around
Pick up my guitar and play
Just like yesterday
Then I’ll get on my knees and pray
We don’t get fooled again.
If there’s a new way
Oh, I’ll be the first in line
But it better work this time.
A decade ago I let myself get excited when a newly-hired Perry Fewell said one of his major goals was to rebuild the GIants’ linebackers to be like the days of Taylor, Carson, and Banks. Five years ago nearly every beat writer believed the Giants hired “Tom Coughlin Jr.” when Ben McAdoo was introduced as the new offensive coordinator. At the time Ed wrote:
So, what is the 36-year-old McAdoo like?
Serious. Business-like. A commanding presence. Confident, but not cocky. A guy who believes in “we” and not “I.” Direct. A guy who looks you in the eye when he shakes your hand, something he did with many of the writers after speaking on Thursday. A guy who has no doubt he is ready for his first offensive coordinator job, and who looks and sounds ready. A guy who is going to measure his words and not say any more than he absolutely has to.
Truth is, McAdoo might be bringing a new style of offense to the Giants but in many ways he sounds like an old-fashioned Giants’ kind of guy. More to the point, a Tom Coughlin kind of guy.
Because after one answer I thought “this guy sounds just like Coughlin.”
Then two years ago everyone was impressed with Pat Shurmur’s calm demeanor, his engaging personality at the mic, how he talked about creating relationships and teaching players, and how he rolled with it when the lights went out during his press conference.
We’ve been here before, far too many times for a franchise like the Giants. I’m not saying I am skeptical of Judge — I thought he was an intriguing candidate before he was hired and I think his hire was a good one. He is impressive, intense, and certainly commands a room.
But I want to see it in action before I jump in with both feet.
That’s why what he said about finding what players can do and putting them in position to play to their strengths, and what he said about being versatile in how they build offense and defense — not just from a macro level, but from week to week — resonates with me.
I honestly wasn’t expecting the Giants new coach to quote three of the smartest personnel people I’ve ever heard, nearly verbatim. I highly doubt that Judge was even quoting Hatman, Riddick, and Angelo, which just speaks to the authenticity of his belief. And that gives me hope.
Hope, because it has been far, far too long since we have seen any kind of flexibility with the Giants. A decade ago the Giants tried to make hybrid TE Travis Beckum into a blocking tight end, EDGE Clint Sintim into an off-ball linebacker. A couple years later they tried to make David Wilson into a between-the-tackles runner and extra pass protector.
And the last couple years we have seen the Giants play Eli Manning as a hyper-cautious Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers type quarterback, use Saquon Barkley as just another 230-pound power back and check-down option, and use Evan Engram as a basic safety-valve tight end instead of the play-making match-up nightmares they should be.
Having that “what can he do” approach to player evaluation will go a long way towards turning the Giants around, and having a head coach who truly believes it is a big first step. Of course the next big step is going to be assembling a coaching staff that buys in and sees player evaluation and development the same way — and getting the front office to buy in as well.
The players they have are the players they have, and they can’t keep blowing things up and rebooting just because the roster doesn’t fit exactly what the coaching staff or front office would prefer to see.
To paraphrase Amy Trask “Don’t get rid of players just because they’re not ‘Your Guys’. Find the right guys and make them Your Guys.”
It’s okay to be hopeful with regards to Judge’s hiring. It’s also okay to be skeptical.
As John Mara said, “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 trust back by winning games.”
A good press conference does not a winning franchise make.
But as many reasons as the Giants have given us to be skeptical, Judge’s attitude toward player evaluation and development gives me hope. It resonates with me at the fundamental level of everything I have been taught.
I truly believe that winning in the NFL is a game of resource management — layers and layers of resource management. The NFL forces parity on their teams, and every franchise gets roughly the same resources to start every year, and the teams that use them the best are the ones that win. From salary cap management, to draft capital, to clock management in games.
But the foundation to all of that is being able to evaluate the available resources accurately and use them as effectively as possible. At the very least what Judge is saying suggests a good grasp on that foundation, and that is about as good a starting point as we could ask.
Now let’s see where he goes from here.