The New York Giants have assembled a broad range of candidates to fill their head coaching vacancy. Their previous two coaching searches essentially came down to three or four candidates. The Giants promoted Ben McAdoo in 2016 for his familiarity with the team and Eli Manning, as well as the familiarity of Eli with McAdoo’s offensive scheme. When the Giants hired Pat Shurmur in 2018, his history as the only experienced head coach interviewed, his quarterback-friendly offense, and his “Adult in the room” demeanor following the fracturing of the locker room under McAdoo were cited as his major selling points.
This time around the Giants are casting their net much more widely, and are bringing in a diverse
- Kris Richard, former Seattle Seahawks and de facto Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator
- Don “Wink” Martindale, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator
- Eric Bieniemy, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator
- Josh McDaniels, New England Patriots
- Mike McCarthy, former Green Bay Packers head coach and offensive coordinator
- Matt Rhule, Baylor head coach
- Joe Judge, New England Patriots’ special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach
To quote noted Muppet Ernie:
One of these things is not like the others,
One of these things just doesn’t belong,
Can you tell which thing is not like the others
By the time I finish my song?
While we could point to Rhule, the college coach, as the outlier, he and McCarthy both have head coaching experience, and Rhule spent three seasons as the offensive coordinator at Temple before spending one year as the Giants’ assistant offensive line coach.
Instead, I think Joe Judge, the Patriots’ special teams coordinator, stands out as the most unconventional among the candidates. And that the Giants on Monday interviewed an unconventional candidate is certainly noteworthy.
The Giants, and most NFL teams, typically hire head coaches with offensive backgrounds, though defensive-minded coaches aren’t completely uncommon.
What is rare is a team hiring a special teams coordinator to be a head coach. Of the current crop of NFL head coaches, only one is a former special teams coordinator: Baltimore Ravens’ head coach John Harbaugh.
Of course, there is a pretty impressive list of coaches who started out with a foundation on special teams: Bill Belichick, Bill Cowher, Marv Levy, Dick Vermeil, and Mike Ditka all had a special teams background before coaching other units and becoming head coaches.
Judge, 38, is a career special teams coach, starting as an assistant for Nick Saban at Alabama from 2009 to 2011. He was then hired by Bill Belichick to be a special teams assistant in 2012 and eventually became the Patriots’ special teams coordinator in 2015.
Belichick, for one, believes Judge has what it takes to be a good head coach, saying, “Joe has done a great job of organizing that [special teams] as well as taking on some other things with the offense, in particular receivers, so he’s done a great job. He’s an excellent coach.”
And by all appearances, that isn’t simply empty rhetoric from Belichick. Judge was slated to follow Josh McDaniels to the Indianapolis Colts in 2018 before McDaniels backed out at the last minute. And, if he follows his previous pattern of grooming assistants with additional duties and promoting from within, Judge could be a candidate to replace McDaniels at offensive coordinator should McDaniels leave this cycle.
Being a special teams coach might even give Judge a unique preparation for the position that neither an offensive nor defensive specialist could claim. Special teams are both offensive and defensive in nature. In kick returns they rely on blocking and decisive running to generate “hidden” yardage for the offense, while coverage needs lane discipline and sound tackling to limit the yardage provided to opposing offenses. Special teams coaches have to deal with both offensive and defensive players, as running backs, receivers, defensive backs, and linebackers form the core of most special teams units. And finally, they only get one play, and it’s usually high-leverage, so they have to make it count and execute correctly the first time.
It is also worth noting that while Judge hasn’t gotten any other interview requests at the NFL level, the Giants do have competition for his services. Judge is currently thought to be the leading candidate to become the head coach for Mississippi State, his alma mater.
So while Judge’s name might not be the flashiest — the request to interview him took fans by surprise and earned a few jokes — the decision might not be so far fetched. It pays to take a closer look any time there is an apparent outlier, and Judge is definitely an intriguing candidate despite the lack of name recognition.