Toward the end of some of his practices in New England, Bill Belichick would have position coaches call the plays against each other. Often that would pit Joe Judge and Jerry Schuplinski on offense against Brian Flores on defense.
"Flo was always going heavy with the pressure and we would kind of laugh about it," Judge recalled. "Jerry would always kind of poke at him and say, ‘All right, Flo, when you’re in charge, you’d better be calling all those blitz zeros then, too!’ We were laughing about it the other day because he sure is. That’s just kind of his personality and what he believes in."
It’s an example of how deeply intertwined and intimate the Giants' and Dolphins' coaching staffs are with each other coming into Sunday’s game between the teams. This time, the stakes will be much higher.
Judge now is the head coach of the Giants (with Schuplinski as his quarterbacks coach) and Flores is the head coach of the Dolphins. Giants defensive coordinator Patrick Graham not only worked with that whole crew in New England but served as Flores’ first defensive coordinator in Miami. Before coming to the Giants, Schuplinski had a stop in South Florida as Flores’ assistant quarterbacks coach.
But it doesn’t take much to bring any of them back to their tiny desks in the depths of Gillette Stadium when they were, in terms of NFL coaching, growing up together.
"I think some of the tightest relationships you have in this business are the relationships you have when you’re broke and grinding with somebody," Judge said. "Brian came into this league the same as I did in kind of a bottom-of-the-totem-pole type of position. It’s when you’re kind of grinding through those long hours and stressful times and going through some adversity together when you really form strong bonds with people."
And not just between them alone.
"Our wives are best friends and our kids hang out," Flores said of his relationship with Graham. "Joe [Judge] is another good friend. Our wives are friends. My son and his daughter were in the same Pre-K class, so we’re talking about people that I have great relationships with."
Not all of the coaching connections were forged in Foxborough. Shawn Flaherty, Miami’s assistant offensive line coach, is the son of Giants offensive line consultant Pat Flaherty.
The Giants and Dolphins may not play each other a lot — this will be their sixth meeting in the last 20 years and 10th dating to 1972 — but the argument can be made that no two NFL teams are as closely related, literally and figuratively, as they are.
For Judge, this is his first time facing a fellow limb on the Belichick head-coaching tree.
It brings about challenges that he has never had to tackle before. All those years of sifting through scouting film with Flores, all of those times they talked about coaching and play-calling philosophies, all of those lessons they learned at the feet of the greatest coach in league history, they are a shared experience between the two men. Because they know each other so well, the challenge becomes deciding when to diverge from established tendencies and when to stick to them.
That knowledge flows both ways.
"Guys you’ve worked with, you learn how they think and you learn what makes them tick," Judge said. "You can see their personality come out in their players. You can see it when they demanded it as a position coach, when they demanded it as a coordinator. You can obviously see it being demanded as a head coach as well."
And you can tell they like to blitz.