He was merely Bill Belichick’s special teams guy when he walked into the Coaches Club at MetLife Stadium not long before the pandemic began.
By the time he left the Coaches Club, he had walked into the hearts of Giants fans desperate for a no-nonsense leader/CEO they could believe in again.
A coach who could make the Giants believe in him, and believe in themselves.
Through thick and thin — and there was plenty of thin throughout the COVID-19 storm pandemic — Judge never blinked, never wavered, and taught the Giants how a professional team should be expected to behave, on the field and off.
Joe Judge spent enough time around Nick Saban and Belichick to know that 6-10 doesn’t get you a parade.
His triumph was leading what had been a broken-down Big Blue horse to water.
Year 2: Make it drink.
The precocious rookie head coach of the 2020 Giants taught his team lessons about comportment and unity and buy-in and camaraderie and trust and accountability while building the right kind of culture.
Now, after four years of losing, it is time for Joe Judge to teach his 2021 Giants how to win.
So much, of course, depends on Daniel Jones making a giant Year 3 leap, and whether he can survive behind an offensive line that has frantic Giants fans pulling their hair out yet again.
Virtually no one outside 1925 Giants Drive believes the Giants are equipped to advance beyond mediocrity, beginning with the home opener Sunday against the Broncos, but there is enough mediocrity in the NFC Least that there is opportunity for them if ownership’s vision of Judge as The Next Great Giants Coach comes to fruition.
The expectations are higher internally following the signings of Kenny Golladay and Adoree’ Jackson and Kyle Rudolph and the drafting of No. 1 pick Kadarius Toney and Azeez Ojulari. And the expected return for Opening Day from Comeback Kid Saquon Barkley (surgically repaired knee), if only in a reduced role for the time being, and all systems go for Golladay (hamstring).
Ownership and management are confident that Judge and his staff will get more out of the assembled talent than Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur did. Given the number of gassers and penalty laps the players have run, the Giants ought to be the best-conditioned team in the league.
“He’s tough … he’s really tough,” Rudolph said. “One of the first lines that stood out to me in our first team meeting in training camp was that it was not gonna be easy — his program here is not easy, but it’s worth it. … He pushes us, he gets the most [out] of us. But at the same time, he’s always fair, and it’s always worth it.”
Tom Coughlin made the playoffs in his second season on the Giants sidelines with an inexperienced Eli Manning.
Bill Parcells made the playoffs in his second season on the Giants sidelines with an inexperienced Phil Simms (yes, it helped having Lawrence Taylor and Harry Carson on defense).
By no means will Judge’s career be defined by the 2021 season, but he can take one giant step toward The Next Great Giants Coach if he can lead his second team to the franchise’s first playoff appearance since 2016.
Judge is a relentless, urgent football machine, smart and tough and fundamentally sound, fully committed to getting each and every player better today than he was yesterday, Belichickian at blocking out all the outside noise.
“If you start to pay attention to all the stuff on the outside, that’s just gonna deter from your own preparation of your own team,” Judge said.
It is his way or the highway, but along the highway his players will find a rest stop called Empathy. They follow Judge, they respect him, they trust him, and not only because he is a whiz at football and he shoots them straight. They follow Judge, they respect him, they trust him, because they know he cares about them. He has that Parcellsian knack of knowing what makes each man tick. Every Giant is a Joe Judge Guy. Until proven otherwise.
“Regardless how you think you’re playing,” Logan Ryan said, “he’s gonna stay on you and tell you how it is.”
He has more Joe Judge Guys this season than he did as a rookie head coach. He has more talent on the roster. He will have Barkley and Lorenzo Carter back. He has his quarterback Jones and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett together for the second time. He has defensive coordinator Patrick Graham and special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey back. He has a four-headed coaching monster trying desperately to fix the offensive line.
The players sported FIGHT on T-shirts during training camp. New York loves a team that fights.
New York loves a team that wins even more.
No one wants to give Giants fans who cannot wait to fill MetLife Stadium again with a sea of blue a team they can be proud of more than Judge. It was his mission statement from Day 1 and it is his mission statement now. If he can give them a playoff team they can be proud of again, then it will allow the franchise and the fans to dream about what Parcells and Coughlin were eventually able to do for them, and what Joe Judge might one day be able to do.
“He can be a great coach, as good as our record’s gonna show,” Ryan told The Post. “He’s a good coach, man. We love him, and we’re gonna play hard for him.”
Giant chance for Joe Judge. Great chance for Joe Judge.