In a tidal wave of coaching news this morning, the New York Giants surprised many by hiring New England Patriots wide receivers and special teams coach Joe Judge as their next head coach. This comes just hours after it was announced that the Carolina Panthers did everything in their power to hire Matt Rhule, leaving many to wonder who the Giants would go after next. Rhule has long been tied to the New York job. Our answer came rather quickly, with the Giants passing on the likes of Josh McDaniels, Kris Richard, and Eric Bieniemy.

When it was reported that the Giants would be keeping Dave Gettleman as their general manager, many wondered if that would hamper their chances of landing Rhule. The former Baylor Bears head coach apparently wanted complete control of the next franchise he would take over. Sources have informed PFN’s Insider Tony Pauline that Rhule signed a contract worth $77 million with the Panthers.

According to Pro Football Network’s Benjamin Allbright, sources have informed him that Rhule did give the Giants an opportunity to match Carolina’s contract and conditions. The Giants decided they didn’t want to match the contract length and give up as much organizational control to Rhule as he demanded.

Allbright reported on January 6 that Judge had decided to interview with the Giants after New England’s surprise exit from the playoffs. The Patriots’ wide receivers and special teams coach became the fifth candidate to interview for the Giants’ head coaching job. The Giants had launched an extensive interviewing process that included Dallas Cowboys defensive passing game coordinator Kris Richard, Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, and former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy.

The 38-year-old special teams coordinator impressed enough in his interview to separate himself from the pack. He had reportedly been in contract talks with the Giants since last night. When the dominoes fell, New York made the move and made Judge their new head coach.

Who is Joe Judge?

Judge’s coaching career began with the Mississippi State Bulldogs as an assistant in 2005. He next served briefly as the linebackers coach for the Birmingham–Southern Panthers in 2008 and then as a Special Teams assistant for Alabama.

In 2012, he joined the New England Patriots as a special teams assistant and served in that role through the 2014 season. When the Patriots won Super Bowl XLIX, Judge was promoted to special teams coordinator following the retirement of Scott O’Brien. Judge won his second Super Bowl with the team in 2017.

Last year, when Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was reported to be leaving for the Indianapolis Colts head coach position, Judge was rumored to be leaving with him. McDaniels ended up reneging on his deal with the Colts and instead remained with the Patriots. Judge did the same. That next season, Judge was put in charge of special teams and wide receivers. According to ESPN, Judge was the only coach in the NFL with both special teams and wide receiver duties.

In total, Judge has won five championships with New England and Alabama – a quality that not many coordinators can claim to have.

Special teams success

Judge came out of nowhere to grab the Giants head coaching position. But, if you follow New England closely, you would know that Bill Belichick has actually been praising Judge for a long time. Belichick, a usually quiet and reclusive person, has been nothing but positive when asked about Judge.

“He’s done a great job with the kicking game and as you said, he’s expanded the role a little bit,” Belichick said during a press conference on Tuesday ahead of the team’s wild-card matchup against the Tennessee Titans. “That’s kind of had a little bit of a ripple effect in the way we’ve organized the kicking game, but that’s all worked out pretty efficiently. And Joe has done a great job of organizing that 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.”

The Patriots’ special teams has been among the top in the league for a number of seasons. This year they ranked No. 3 in special teams points per game. Good special teams coaches have the traits necessary to become successful head coaches. One of the most prominent special team coaches that has found head coaching success is John Harbaugh. Harbaugh has already won one Super Bowl with the Baltimore Ravens and is currently leading them on an impressive season where they are still competing for another championship. 

Judge’s personal background

According to the official Patriots website, Judge is in the process of pursuing his PhD in education from Mississippi State University. This began in 2005 when he was a graduate assistant for the MSU football team. Now, all that remains for his is the opportunity to defend his dissertation.

That may have to be put on hold though, as he is now in charge of a team in one of the largest media markets in the United States. When you also account for his family life – a husband and father of four – you can see just how difficult that can be.

“When I started, I was married with one child. Over the course of adding three kids, it’s kind of delayed the process of just knocking out that final part,” Judge told the Patriots website.

Beyond the actual process of getting his PhD, Judge says that education is a fundamental root of coaching players, regardless of what level they play in.

“To me, coaching has always been teaching. I worked for a guy a while back who told me that teaching is just to inspire learning. To me, learning different methods of teaching is the biggest thing,” Judge said. “There is no one way to teach. Everybody learns differently, and you have to really learn who the class is, who the students are, so you can reach everybody. You can’t teach to the highest in the classroom, and if you only teach to the lowest in the classroom, you’re going to miss others. You have to find ways to teach to the entire spectrum at the same time through different methods and keep everybody engaged.”

Matthew Slater, Patriots special teams extraordinaire, says that Judge is committed to his craft.

“…Joe is such a smart guy, having been around him for all these years now,” Slater said. “He knows so much about so many different things. He’s really committed himself to his craft here, but it doesn’t surprise me that he would want to continue to acquire knowledge and advance himself.”
 

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