The New York Giants are finalizing a deal with Patriots special teams coordinator and receivers coach Joe Judge to make him their next head coach, according to multiple reports.
The Patriots will lose a coach who has been with them since 2012, when he came to New England after three years under Nick Saban as Alabama’s special teams assistant. Judge held that same position with the Patriots from 2012-14, after which he was promoted to special teams coordinator. This year, following Chad O’Shea’s departure for Miami, the role of receivers coach was added to his plate, meaning the Patriots essentially have two vacancies to fill.
Judge, 38, interviewed with Giants president John Mara, general manager Dave Gettleman, and vice president of football operations Kevin Abrams on Monday at the team’s facility in New Jersey, so the deal came together quickly.
With the Carolina Panthers hiring Baylor coach Matt Rhule Tuesday morning, that leaves the Cleveland Browns as the only team still scheduled to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels for their head coaching vacancy. McDaniels had been scheduled to interview with the Panthers and Giants before they made their hires.
Judge is the rare head coaching hire whose background is primarily on special teams. Those assistants don’t often get elevated to head coaching roles, but Bill Belichick and the Ravens’ John Harbaugh serve as examples of what can happen when they do.
And it’s likely that the Giants got a good recommendation on Judge from Belichick, who has deep respect for and ties to that organization.
Belichick said of Judge last year, “He’s smart. He played quarterback, he played offense, so he has a good offensive background. There are a lot of defensive principles in special teams; he’s a good defensive coach, teaching those fundamentals and techniques in the kicking game, but they would carry over to defense.
“Joe could probably coach any position on the field. He does an excellent job of teaching players. He thinks quickly, the game comes easily to him. He understands concepts and adjustments and fundamental techniques. That’s the mark of a good coach.”
Judge’s new job will come with many unfamiliar responsibilities, and puts him in a division in which his rivals have a wealth of experience. The other NFC East head coaches — Dallas’s Mike McCarthy, Washington’s Ron Rivera, and Philadelphia’s Doug Pederson — have a combined 439 games as head coaches under their belts.
No surprise for someone who came up under Saban and Belichick, Judge is known as a no-nonsense coach who is a stickler for details.
The Patriots have had strong special teams units in most years under his watch, finishing first in the NFL in both starting field position and opponent starting field position this season.
His work with the receivers came across as less impressive, with that position a weak point for New England this season. In general, though, personnel seemed more to blame than coaching with that group, which saw Julian Edelman produce 1,117 yards, then no other wide receiver top Phillip Dorsett’s 397.
One candidate to replace Judge as special teams coordinator is assistant special teams coach Cameron Achord, who just completed his second season with the Patriots. With Judge splitting time between special teams and receivers this year, Achord’s responsibilities grew, though his title remained the same.
As far as replacing Judge’s work on offense, what happens with McDaniels will be significant. Troy Brown worked with Patriots’ receivers all season and could officially become a position coach, but it seems likely that any hire there could be influenced by whether the Patriots need an offensive coordinator, too. A reunion with O’Shea, who was let go by Miami last week, seems more likely in the wake of Judge’s departure.
With Belichick elevating Judge last spring and giving him responsibilities that spanned position groups, it was clear Judge was being groomed for something bigger. Had he stayed with the Patriots, he would have been considered a top candidate for offensive coordinator if McDaniels leaves.
Judge also was one of the assistant coaches McDaniels planned to bring with him to Indianapolis two years ago; when McDaniels reneged on the Colts job, Judge also stayed in New England.
Judge’s quick rise has taken dedication and, by his own admission, hasn’t come without sacrificing a lot of family time. Two weeks ago, Judge answered a question about balancing the holidays with an NFL coach’s schedule by acknowledging that the 24 hours he got to be at home for Christmas marked a rare occurrence during football season, and he credited his wife for taking care of their four children.
“I’m a bystander in our marriage for about six months a year and she kind of carries on the role of a widow as much as she can,” Judge said. “She does a much better job of being a mother than I do at anything I do.”
His expectation was that, when the season ended, he’d reconnect, get away for a bit, and tote the children to and from basketball, dance, gymnastics, and lacrosse practices and games as much as possible.
“Just show them I support them as much as I can and just allow them to see that I’m visible even though for half the year I’m a little bit invisible,” Judge said.
Nora Princiotti can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @NoraPrinciotti.