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Joe Judge has experienced a lot of firsts in the past year and change since he was hired as the Giants’ head coach without having had a day of prior experience as a head coach on any level.
After spending eight winning seasons as an assistant on Bill Belichick’s Patriots staff, Judge oversaw a Giants team that lost seven of its first eight games and staggered to a 6-10 finish in 2020.
And Wednesday, Judge experienced his first public flogging from one of his players when Kelvin Benjamin, upon his release, excoriated him as a “know-it-all’’ coach who will never win a Super Bowl “because he sits there and cusses all day’’ an interview with NJ.com.
Some perspective on Benjamin: He was a Giant for what felt like 15 minutes, signed in May as a long shot to make the team after having not played in the NFL since 2018 and was changing positions from receiver to tight end.
Some perspective on Judge: Considering his revelation Thursday about some unique measures he took in the offseason trying to better himself as a coach, he hardly sounded like someone who thinks he has all the answers.
Judge revealed that he “spent a lot of time this offseason’’ working with specialists in different fields of life, including sports psychologists, Navy Seals and coaches in different sports, including professional lacrosse and women’s basketball.
“I’m trying to find out how different people [treat] players because we’ve got an array of different backgrounds,’’ Judge said. “We also have different generations. It’s important to understand the difference in Millennials, Generation Z and also the effects that COVID has had.
“To me, it’s important to understand that each person has a different story, value set and also understanding that as a generation of players, the reality is it’s different coaching rookies and coaching our vets. One guy has got a family and kids, one guy is just getting out of college and focusing on shoe deals and combine preparation for the last part of the year. We’ve got get these guys on the same page to be successful.’’
These words and actions from Judge don’t paint him out to be a “know-it-all.’’ To the contrary, Judge came off sounding like a coach who has an appreciation for the things he doesn’t know and is hellbent on trying to figure them out.
Among the things Judge did this offseason in an effort to be a better head coach and leader of men was do a lot of reading, including two books authored by Ryan Holiday — “The Obstacle is the Way’’ and “Ego is the Enemy.’’
Judge portrays a public image as a no-nonsense tough guy. But there appears to be more depth than meets the eye. Yes, he’s tough on his players, determined his teams be disciplined. He is, after all, a Belichick disciple.
The reaction to Benjamin’s post-release rant from both Judge and some of his players was rather matter of fact. Judge actually sounded slightly amused at the accusations about his “cussing.’’
An NFL coach using salty language around his players. Stop the presses. News at 11.
“Look, I’ve got some colorful language,’’ Judge said. “I know how to clean it up at the right time. When you’re out there, kind of heat of the moment in practice, teaching … sometimes colorful language happens.’’
Giants cornerback James Bradberry came to Judge’s defense when asked about the Benjamin attack.
“He’s entitled to his own opinion,’’ Bradberry said of Benjamin. “I definitely think coach Judge is tough. But football is tough. A tough coach — that’s how you build structure. That’s how you build discipline. That’s what he’s building here. It’s part of our culture. It ain’t for everybody, man, you know? You feel me?’’
It sounds like Judge’s players feel him and his passion, and are willing to ride with him.
“I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like him,’’ defensive lineman Dexter Lawrence said. “He relates to guys. He listens to us. He respects us. We respect him. He’s very intense, but I feel like he prepares us each and every day for the game. That’s his motto. That’s his mindset and it helps and it works.’’
Tight end Evan Engram said his respect for Judge elevated when the team was at its lowest points early last season.
“The biggest thing I appreciate about Joe is how he always kept the picture going forward,’’ Engram said. “We started off really rough last year, and each week you couldn’t tell it from him and his expectations and his energy. You can strap up your helmet and go to war for a coach like that.’’
So while Benjamin quietly disappears into retirement, Judge presses forward with hopes that his offseason self-improvement evolution produces anther first for him: Winning as a head coach.
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