Joe Judge just became Joe Judge and Jury, sentencing Jason Garrett to a long and prosperous life somewhere, anywhere, outside of East Rutherford, N.J. The Giants’ head coach made a mistake bringing back Garrett for a second season, then compounded it by not firing his offensive coordinator at the start of the bye week.
Those two wrongs did end up making a right Tuesday, because Garrett absolutely had to go. In an age of innovative, high-flying offenses, his was an assault on the senses. Garrett had no idea how to maximize his skill-position players or how to develop Daniel Jones into a rock-solid starter long before that became painfully obvious to a national TV audience that laughed at what the Giants (3-7) had become, and to pseudo-color man Eli Manning, who winced and said “Geeez” when Jones threw his second pick in the blowout loss to the Bucs.
Eli scratched his head, and the next day Judge finally scratched the itch he had to book Garrett on the next flight out of town. The head coach screwed up, and he knows it. He just invited more examinations of his own job performance, because you only get to fire so many assistants before somebody gets around to firing you.
But chances are greater than not that Judge will return next season, barring a meltdown over these final seven games, about five of which are winnable. Frankly, I would still bet on the notion that Judge, at 39, has shown enough signs that he has a chance to be good at this. I would still roll with the pre-hire recommendation Bill Belichick gave to John Mara about his former New England aide, telling the Giants co-owner, “He’s better than the last two guys you hired.”
One reason Judge will prove better than Pat Shurmur and Ben McAdoo was made clear in this decision. Judge didn’t just fire Garrett. He picked the players over the coaches while an entire league was watching to see if he would.
“To me, when you get into coaching, it’s about the players,” Judge said in a Tuesday conference call. “That’s just the way I’ve been brought up in this business, and the way I look at the game. It’s about the players. It’s a players’ game.”
Judge might’ve just saved his Giants career long term by making this move and saying those words. Though he added that he almost never worries about outside perception and that he was “not trying to make any kind of statements in terms of players versus coach,” his actions and answers speak for themselves.
The vast majority of NFL players watch “Monday Night Football,” and many of them watch the postgame pressers. In his, Judge blamed the coaches and specifically Garrett, without naming him, for not “putting our players in a position to make plays. We have too many good players and we have to put them in a better position to capitalize, that’s it.” Judge actually added that if he were a player, “there are some things I would be frustrated about as well.”
Judge went on to say that he stays at the office late and rises early for the players and that they are “the most important part of the team.” In NFL homes across the country, you could almost hear jaws dropping to floors. Judge was a graduate of the school of Belichick and Nick Saban. He was supposed to be a detail-obsessed despot who ran his training camps like an overheated high school coach, ruling by wind sprints, laps and push-ups. Judge’s camp was supposed to be the sport’s modern-day answer to Bear Bryant’s Junction Boys, and players would keep quitting on him and retiring on him and spreading the word to free agents that they should sign with somebody else.
But where was that coach when he sided with the likes of Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney against a peer with a lot of admirers around the league and inside the Giants’ ownership suite? Golladay was a $72 million free agent and Toney was a first-round pick, and Judge correctly ruled that Garrett had failed them both.
Don’t kid yourself by thinking that NFL stars and potential stars didn’t notice, and didn’t store away a few thoughts for the next time they’re available and the Giants come calling.
Assuming those are still Joe Judge’s Giants on the phone.
Yes, the Judge needs to win some games in a hurry, starting Sunday against the Eagles, who have no business being ahead of the Giants in the NFC East. The Giants’ head coach left open the possibility that he will call the plays. Either way, if his team keeps face-planting across the rest of the season, Judge will follow the next guy out the door — completely overmatched GM Dave Gettleman.
But at least Judge has given himself a fighting chance here. He had a choice between the talent and a non-productive, long-tenured fraternity member, and he smartly picked the talent. His locker room noticed. Players around the NFL noticed. And maybe someday those players will help Joe Judge become a better head coach in New York than Jason Garrett ever was in Dallas.
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