FLORHAM Park, N.J. — Spend just a few minutes watching Joe Judge on the practice field, and you know what you’re getting: A high-energy coach who speaks his mind and is not afraid to raise his voice — a lot — and often emphasizes his points with curse words. A lot of curse words.
Case in point: The Giants’ second-year coach laced into his team late in Tuesday’s practice after a bench-clearing brawl erupted following a play in which running back Corey Clement was leveled by safety Xavier McKinney. It was a master class in Old-School Football Coaching 101.
With Robert Saleh, it’s more nuanced. In fact, at times it’s the polar opposite. Where the Giants’ coach can be seen — and heard — imploring his players to do things his way, Saleh’s default demeanor is more subdued. Through most of practice, he stands by impassively, arms folded while watching his players go through their paces.
Oh, there are times when he’ll show emotion, especially on game day, when he can be seen on the sideline clapping, yelling and being as demonstrative as anyone else. In fact, as the 49ers’ defensive coordinator, he had a "get-back coach," an assistant who was assigned to making sure Saleh wouldn’t step on to the field and incur a penalty.
"I’ve never been a big yeller on the practice field, and I’m not really a yeller during the games either," Saleh said. He draws a distinction between his game-day exuberance and the meaning behind it.
"When you exhaust so much time and energy and you see how hard these players work and you know what they’re putting into it, and those big-time moments happen in those games and you see that player — and both of you have just exhausted hours of time for just that one play, for one play — and you see success, you can’t help but feel jubilation for that young man," he said. "You know what it took for him to get that point."
It’s different in practice.
"On the [practice] field, it’s trying to take in as much to help these guys," he said. "It’s all about teaching. It’s all about finding ways for them to get better so they can make those plays on Sunday."
It’s also about teaching and finding ways for players to get better for Judge. He simply goes about it in a different way, as evidenced no better than his decision to make his players run gassers and do pushups after Tuesday’s melee and end practice early. Fines were likely assessed, too.
"Listen, the result of having something like that happen is going to be 15-yard penalties, ejections from the game and, for players and coaches specifically, fines," Judge said Wednesday in his first remarks after Tuesday’s fight. "We have to understand that for everything you do there’s a consequence and we have to understand that our job is to put ourselves in a position to win football games. What happened at practice would have taken away an opportunity to win a game based on the actions on the field, so there needs to be consequences, there needs to be a lesson learned and we need to move forward as a team and not repeat the mistake."
Makes sense. And for most fans of old-school discipline, Judge’s behavior was not only acceptable, but laudable. He comes from a coaching tree that includes Nick Saban and Bill Belichick — and, by extension, former Giants coach Bill Parcells — and it’s perfectly in keeping with the tenets of their coaching philosophy.
Saleh is from a coaching tree that includes Kyle Shanahan and his father, Mike, and — by extension, former 49ers coach Bill Walsh — who used a far more cerebral approach with the players. It’s teaching without the yelling.
"For me, it’s trying to create accountability with self, rather than enforcing accountability," he said. "These players are grown men. To give them the opportunity to correct themselves will always happen first. Obviously, there’s going to be coaching. They’re not trying to make the mistake. All we can do is help them understand how the mistake was made so they don’t do it again."
As history shows, both approaches can work. Walsh and Parcells took turns winning Super Bowls in the 1980’s, Belichick has a record six Super Bowl titles and Saban has won six national championships at Alabama.
Saleh and Judge hope to follow in the footsteps of their coaching ancestors, and if they do get that far, it will be with styles reflective of their differing personalities.
But if the results are the same, no one will be complaining.
Least of all Jets and Giants fans.