MOBILE, Ala. – Here’s a simple recipe that just about anyone can slap together. Take two slices of bread, spread some peanut butter and jelly on them, then put the bread together. Boom. Done.
But there is nuance to everything, even that relatively unimaginative process. Does the peanut butter go on first? Does the jelly go on top of it or on the facing side? Have the ingredients been spread to the edges so that there are no empty bites?
As Joe Judge goes through the deliberate and grinding process of filling out his coaching staff at the Senior Bowl this week, these are the things he thinks about.
Sandwiches? Well, not exactly. But the details that go into them. So when he interviews a candidate, whether it be for a prominent position or a low-rung role, he has one overarching need that he is waiting to have filled.
“Teach me how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich,” he said on Wednesday. “Teach me. Make me the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich-maker in the history of the world.”
That’s not an actual question or requirement. But it’s an illustration of how Judge is making his way through what is often the most difficult and dangerous part of a first-time head coach’s tenure. He knows that there are plenty of candidates who know a lot about football. But can they deliver that information? Can they provide the detail and the guidelines to improve on something that is as basic knowledge in football circles as making sandwiches is to the culinary culture?
Can they make the Giants players the best fill-in-the-blank in the history of the world?
“You can talk to any of the guys at practice out here and put them on a board and they can draw up something,” Judge said. “Everyone’s got a fancy scheme and there’s a lot of guys who can draw from their past experience. … But teach me something. Listen, if you come in and all you can talk about is long-snappers, make me the best long-snapper out there. Teach me what the issues are and then teach me a way to correct it. Don’t tell me what the problem is, OK? I know what the symptoms are. How do you correct them? Tell me that. Teach me that. That’s what’s important.”
So much so that Judge has hardly spent any time watching or interacting with the prospects who are playing at this year’s Senior Bowl. The scouts and front-office personnel are handling that. Judge also has given only a cursory look at the current Giants roster and their film so far in his first few weeks on the job. His focus has been, almost singularly, on the staff.
“It’s important to me that we get this right,” he said. “This isn’t about a quick fix. This isn’t about getting somebody in here who’s got some magic solution or some sexy offensive name in the paper in terms of what they may be running. This is about finding someone who can consistently perform, who has gotten the most out of his players, different players over the course of time in different circumstances, and that we can lay that base for our players to build on for years to come.”
Every interview is unique, Judge said.
“Listen, sometimes the guy may be on the board for hours,” he said. “Sometimes it may be giving technique examples against a chair. Sometimes we may be standing on our feet going through different technique things and fundamentals. Hey, sometimes it’s talking and laughing and sometimes it’s heated discussions. But at the end of it you have to boil it down and figure out what does this guy bring to our staff, to our table, to our organization, that is going to improve how our players can perform.”
The process can be grueling. For Judge this week, it’s meant not venturing very far from his hotel room in Mobile, which is situated next to a conference room where the interviews take place. But that’s just part of the process.
“There’s a lot of guys and I’m doing my homework,” Judge said. “Before I’ve talked to someone in person I’ve made at least 50 phone calls on the guy, even if it’s someone I know directly and had a working relationship with. I want to talk to players they’ve coached, I want to talk with coaches they’ve worked with, I want to talk to coaches they’ve gone against. I want to know what kind of multiples and problems they present for opponents. Look, I’m taking my time. One thing I don’t want to have to do is turn around after this year and make too many changes. I don’t want to do that. I’m not bringing anybody into this organization to change. I want to take my time on the front end, I want to make sure to get the right guys in here.”
Judge noted that he comes from two programs – Alabama and the Patriots – where the continuity of success is due to the overall philosophy and not the microelements such as players or play-calling.
“Those general offensive and defensive and special teams schemes may have changed over the years based on the players we have available but the foundation and the base remains the same,” he said. “And that’s the most important thing we can do right now.”