It’s been six months since Joe Judge was hired. He still hasn’t addressed all of the Giants players in person, still hasn’t run a practice on the fields that the windows in his until-recently-vacant office overlook, still hasn’t blown a whistle. Those are the routine activities normally associated with his job, and they’ve all been unavailable to him so far.
Does he even feel like an NFL head coach without checking those tasks off his to-do list?
“Well, yeah,” he told Newsday. Then he laughed.
Because of course he is a head coach, and he’s already crammed what for many might be a career’s worth of crisis management into his half-year tenure at the helm.
He was brought in to lift the franchise from its recent doldrums and disappointments, a difficult enough job description at any point, but has had to figure out how to build the foundation for that in the midst of a pandemic.
The coronavirus has kept players and coaches spread out over thousands of miles, forced a reliance on technology to facilitate team bonding and learning, and messed with Judge’s calendar — that carved-in-granite schedule that all head coaches hold sacred — so often that even now, on the brink of training camp, it remains at best a fluid hope rather than a finalized blueprint.
Not until this past weekend did it become clear that the players would report to camp on Tuesday, and even that process is very different from usual. Those who arrive will be tested for the virus, quarantined for 72 hours, then tested again . . . before they are even allowed inside the team facility.
It’s such a necessary but elongated process that those who reported last Thursday (rookies, quarterbacks and players returning from injury) will not be able to step onto a football field until Wednesday this week. For the veterans who arrive on Tuesday, that won’t happen until this coming Monday.
This 2020 season was always going to be one of transition and fresh starts. Besides Judge, the Giants have two new coordinators in Jason Garrett and Patrick Graham. They have a new undisputed leader in Daniel Jones, the second-year quarterback who will take his first solo flights this year after the retirement of Eli Manning. They have what they hope will become the new anchor to their offensive line in first-round pick Andrew Thomas. They have one of the youngest rosters in the NFL and only three projected starters over the age of 30.
That was without the pandemic. Without the new world of social awareness in the NFL. Without two key players, cornerback DeAndre Baker and kicker Aldrick Rosas, being arrested this summer and forcing the Giants to find replacements.
And now, even the most grizzled in the organization are facing new challenges — and new solutions — for the first time in a training camp that will be unlike any other in team history. There are plans in place to progress through the potholes that lie in the days, weeks and months ahead, but there are certain to be unforeseen and yet unknowable obstacles that will pop up and require on-the-fly adjustments.
Judge will have to be ready to make those calls. The past six months certainly have prepared him for that, even if he hasn’t yet been able to handle the “normal” aspects of his new role.
He said he enjoys practices and that the games are “what you live for,” but his favorite aspect of being a coach is interacting with the players. This spring, through Zoom meetings and other virtual venues, he was able to do a bit of that.
“Just having conversations with each other and laughing and interacting, that’s really the best part,” Judge said. “Walking through the building with the guys, seeing them, cutting up with them, just the relationships you form. We were able to get a good enough start on that this year. We had a lot of fun this spring, we enjoyed it.”
The only thing missing during that period, strangely enough, was football. It’s an absence that is on the verge of being remedied. And Judge finally will get to blow that whistle for the first time as head coach of the Giants.
“Now,” he said, “it’s time.”