EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — The struggling New York Giants went into their third coaching search since 2015 looking for a leader for their young team.
In hiring New England Patriots special teams coordinator and wide receivers coach Joe Judge on Wednesday, the Giants settled for a 38-year-old assistant who has never run a team either at the college or NFL level.
What they did get with Judge though was a young man who has worked with two of the best football coaches in the past 30 years in Bill Belichick and Nick Saban.
The hope is the success those men have had rubs off and makes the Giants relevant in the NFL again.
“Joe is one of the brightest young coaches in our profession, and I think he will do a tremendous job as the head coach of the New York Giants," Saban said in a statement. “They are getting an extremely smart football coach who is very loyal, organized and diligent about getting the job done.''
The Giants and representatives for Judge reached a contract agreement Wednesday, less than 24 hours after he was offered the job and asked to turn around a franchise that has made the playoffs once since winning the Super Bowl in February 2012.
Judge succeeds Pat Shurmur, who was fired a week ago Monday after winning nine games in two seasons.
“Over the past couple of days we had great conversations about where this team is and where it is headed and how we are going to get there," Judge said in a statement. “My job is to lead our players and coaches. The mission is clear, to win games.”
The hiring was surprising because Judge was not considered a favorite for the job in a field of impressive and more experienced candidates. However, Giants co-owner John Mara said Judge was very impressive in his interview Monday.
“He knows what winning looks like and should look like," Mara said. “His exposure and experience in New England and Alabama have helped shape his philosophy of building a winning program and culture. ” The two men considered the front-runners for the Giants' job opted to coach other teams.
Former Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy, who won a Super Bowl and went to the playoffs nine times in 12-plus seasons, accepted the Dallas Cowboys' job. He interviewed with the Giants last week.
Baylor coach Matt Rhule, a former Giants assistant, was hired by the Carolina Panthers on Tuesday, the day he was supposed to interview with New York. The planned meeting never happened.
It left the impression the Giants settled for Judge, but the team feels it hired a young man who can transform a young team into a winner.
Before the coaching search started last week, Mara and fellow co-owner Steve Tisch had said they wanted to hire a leader for a team that has won 12 games in the last three seasons.
“We had a great conversation, and Joe articulated his vision of leadership and team building,” Tisch said. “He clearly learned some valuable lessons in both those areas while working with Bill Belichick and Nick Saban. He is an impressive young leader.''
Judge has won three Super Bowls (2014, '16 and '18 seasons) with New England in eight years as an assistant on Belichick's staff.
Before joining the Patriots, he spent three years working for Saban. The former Mississippi State player won titles with the Crimson Tide in the 2009 and ’11 seasons. He also coached at Mississippi State and Birmingham-Southern.
With Judge as special teams coordinator since 2015, New England consistently ranked as one of the NFL's top units. He added receivers to his responsibilities in 2019. He coached kicker Stephen Gostkowski to the All-Pro team in 2015 and special teams captain Matt Slater to the same honor in 2016 and this season.
Coming to the Giants will give Judge the chance to work with quarterback Daniel Jones, who had a good rookie season, and running back Saquon Barkley, the 2018 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.
He will also have to develop a young defense that was ranked among the worst in the league the past two seasons.
Judge will be the Giants' fourth coach since Tom Coughlin left after the 2015 season. Ben McAdoo was hired in 2016 and made the playoffs. He was fired in early December 2017 with the team en route to a 3-13 mark. Steve Spagnuolo served as the interim coach for the final month. Shurmur was hired in January 2018.
“Joe has prepared for this moment and is ready for the challenge of leading our team,” general manager Dave Gettleman said. “His beliefs and principles are all about the team. Because of his background with special teams working under Bill Belichick, he has had the experience of evaluating and managing the entire roster.”
The Giants interviewed five candidates for their head coaching job. Others interviewed were Kris Richard, the Dallas defensive assistant coach and former Seattle defensive coordinator; Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy; and Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale. They had also scheduled interviews with Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and former Dallas coach Jason Garrett later this week.
Garrett, whose contract with the Cowboys expires next week, might be considered a possible candidate for offensive coordinator. He could work with Jones and offer Judge insight into being a head coach.
While relatively young, Judge will not be either the youngest coach in Giants' history or the current youngest in the NFL. Sean McVay of the Rams is 33.
Benny Friedman was 25 years old when he was the Giants co-coach with Steve Owen for the final two games of the 1930 season. Owen was 32 that season. He became the head coach in 1931 and held the job until 1953.