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The Giants Hired the Pats’ Receivers Coach the Year Pats Receivers Went to Hell

But there are reasons to think Joe Judge—who also led one of the league’s best special teams units—could succeed in New York

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The New York Giants are reportedly finalizing a deal to hire New England Patriots receivers coach Joe Judge to be their next head coach.

You’d be forgiven for being confused about the hiring. Judge was barely considered a head-coaching candidate and wasn’t even the most buzzed-about candidate on the Patriots staff for the Giants job (that was offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who was scheduled to interview for the job Wednesday). The Giants weren’t competing with the Cleveland Browns or Dallas Cowboys for Judge’s services; the only other team that offered Judge a head-coaching opportunity was Mississippi State, Judge’s alma mater. The Giants also had options. Baylor head coach Matt Rhule gave the Giants a chance to match the contract offered to him by Carolina owner David Tepper, which is for $60 million across seven years. The team also interviewed Cowboys defensive passing game coordinator and DB coach Kris Richard, former Packers coach Mike McCarthy (who took the Dallas job), Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale, and Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But the team went with Judge. (The Giants’ and Panthers’ decisions Tuesday mean that for the third year in a row, the number of minority head coaches in the NFL will decrease.)

Judge, 38, will be the third-youngest NFL head coach after the L.A. Rams’ Sean McVay and the Cincinnati Bengals’ Zac Taylor.

Judge was the Patriots’ receivers coach in 2019, the year that the Patriots receivers became a punch line, but for much of the decade, Judge had been a special teams coach, leading that unit for either Nick Saban or Bill Belichick. By working for the king of college football and the chancellor of pro football, Judge has collected five rings, winning two college football national championships with Alabama and three Super Bowls with the New England Patriots.

Judge also has his wedding ring. He has been married to his college sweetheart for nearly 15 years, though he seems to be extremely dedicated to football during the season. “There are whole weeks during the season when I don’t see my children awake,” Judge told Mississippi State’s alumni magazine in the spring of 2016. “They sometimes call our home ‘Mommy’s house’ and the stadium ‘Daddy’s house.’ Your family goes through the highs and lows with you. They feel the wins and losses just like you do. The key is to make sure they know they’re a part of it.” When The Boston Globe’s Nora Princiotti asked Judge about balancing family and football during the holiday season, Judge said his wife lives “like a widow.”

Judge attended Mississippi State with hopes of playing quarterback in 2000, but he got on the field only to hold on kick attempts and block for his punter. After college, Judge stayed on as a graduate assistant for two years and then—this is verbatim from the Mississippi State alumni magazine—took a job as “the kindergarten physical education teacher at West Point Elementary.”

Judge quickly went from kindergarten cop to working for Saban and eventually Belichick. With the Patriots, Judge led one of the league’s best special teams units. New England’s ranked as the 11th-most-efficient special teams unit this year, according to Football Outsiders’ DVOA, despite cycling through four kickers. The Patriots, who have had above-average special teams for 24 consecutive seasons, finished in the top eight in three of Judge’s five seasons as coordinator. Belichick, a former special teams coach himself, is famously obsessed with football’s third team. His longest press conference answers are often about punters. Judge is reportedly similarly detail-oriented.

The Giants have a lot of details to iron out. Eli Manning (who is older than Judge) is almost certainly not going to return, and the Giants will need to hire an offensive coordinator to replace former head coach Pat Shurmur, who called plays on offense. (To fill that role, they may go to an old rival: ESPN’s Ed Werder reported the Giants have requested to interview former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett for the offensive coordinator position.) The Giants have invested heavily in their offensive players. Quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, and tight end Evan Engram are all first-round picks, Sterling Shepard and guard Will Hernandez were second-rounders, and left tackle Nate Solder and Golden Tate were pricey free agents. An offense that puts those pieces to good use is sorely needed.

Shumur is gone, and defensive coordinator James Bettcher is also unlikely to be retained after his defense had multiple communication issues that gave up easy touchdowns late in the season. While the Giants defense isn’t the most talented, the mental mistakes, like not covering Eagles tight end Zach Ertz in the end zone in Week 15, may keep Bettcher from being retained for the staff of someone reared under Saban and Belichick.

It may seem strange to hire a special teams coach, but great coaches are often detail-oriented, and special teams coaches deal with every position on a roster. Baltimore’s John Harbaugh was hired by the Ravens in 2008 after nearly a decade as Philadelphia’s special teams coordinator, and he’s led his team to three AFC title games, one Super Bowl win, and the best record in football in 2019. In other words, don’t be so quick to judge Joe.

An earlier version of this story said that Judge is older than Miami’s Brian Flores. He is not.