Why coronavirus won’t wreck Joe Judge’s Giants

You better know what to do when circumstances change, when you are confronted with crisis. Coaching the New York Football Giants —whether you are champions such as Bill Parcells and Tom Coughlin or a rookie such as Joe Judge — in the midst of a pandemic is not exactly miraculously landing a plane in the middle of the Hudson River and saving the lives of all 155 passengers.

But it helps to have a little Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger in you.

Giants fans should not worry about Joe Judge.

He’ll land your plane.

“As a head coach,” Parcells would say all the time, “no less than five unexpected things will happen to you every day — it’s all about how you react to them.”

COVID-19 has dramatically changed the landscape every bit as much for Bill Belichick as it has for Judge. A virtual world has replaced an interpersonal world. Belichick, of course, navigated his way through Spygate and Deflategate and now faces life after Tom Brady. So this isn’t his first rodeo. It is, of course, Judge’s first rodeo.

He doesn’t sound like a guy who will fall off the Big Blue horse anytime soon.

“It’s my job to be prepared,” Judge said. “As the head coach, I’ve gotta have a plan for everything that’s gonna come up.

“We’ve made four calendars already in anticipation of different scenarios that can come up, and we’ve got it color coded so if we get the players as scheduled, we’ll work it off the blue calendar. If we don’t get the players, I’ll work off a red calendar. If we get them later in the spring, we can pull up the purple calendar.

“It’s our job to figure it out and have a plan for the players, and we’re working on doing that right now.”

So Judge is a man with a plan. A man who appears fully capable of adapting and adjusting on the fly. The kind of poised and prepared and smart leader the Giants needed even before all our lives were disrupted and turned upside down.

Whether he is held hostage in his basement on a couch with his golden retriever Abby or smelling the green grass outside 1925 Giants Drive under a warm sun with his players and coaches, the job is to create an environment conducive to winning, a culture everyone from the owners to the cafeteria workers swear by, no matter the size of the problems he is asked to solve. The teaching and instruction will begin on Monday.

Patriots players have been conditioned for the better part of two decades to know exactly what the expectations are every season. Giants players once had those expectations. Under Judge, they better learn quickly how to embrace those expectations. Whether they are newly signed free agents, or Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley.

Joe Judge
Joe JudgePhoto courtesy of the Judge family

“I expect everybody on the team to bring a level of commitment and competitiveness that’s gonna make us an improved team,” Judge said. “Whether it’s someone who was on the roster last year, someone we added in free agency or some of these players we add in the draft, that’s the expectation of all these players — come to work every day, with a relentless effort and attitude, and improve his team.”

To Judge, it isn’t what you accomplished yesterday. It is what you can accomplish today and tomorrow. It doesn’t matter if you’re the 2020 Patriots, or the 2020 Giants.

“I think the advantage goes to whoever’s best prepared from this point forward,” Judge said.

“I don’t think any established program’s gonna have an advantage over anybody else.”

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The right rookie head coach can own an advantage in this regard: He can hold the carrot of playing time in his hand, because virtually everyone will have a clean slate and jobs are available to be won. And lost. There will be no special treatment for anyone. He and his coaches have researched what makes each player tick. On the field and in the meeting rooms and locker room, wherever they have been.

“No one at this point on the roster has an edge over anybody else that’s part of this team,” Judge said.

Judge alluded to the 2011 lockout, when returning players were plagued by injuries. He hasn’t left the injury box unchecked.

“The biggest thing we’ve gotta make sure that we adjust for is the ability for our players to be prepared physically when they get back,” Judge said.

Message to Giants: Be as prepared for your job as your rookie head coach will be for his.

“I expect when they show up to be in shape,” Judge said. “I expect them to be ready on the material that we presented to them, and I expect them to come out on the field and compete aggressively every single day.”

Message to Giants: If you are a fraud, you will be exposed sooner rather than later. That will be a virtual certainty starting Monday. No pro day? No problem. Joe Day instead.

“It gives you an opportunity to at least look the player in the eyes as you talk,” Judge said. “I’m very big on body language. I’m very big on eye contact. It gives you a good picture of how they are as far as talking ball, how much they can learn and teach back to you.”

Parcells had another saying: “Don’t tell me about the pain, show me the baby.’” No one knows when the baby will be walking. Joe Judge is a man with great compassion and appreciation for the sacrifice all the first responders have made and are making. But you better believe he can’t wait to show Giants fans the baby.

“We’re gonna make sure that what they’ve been anticipating [when] we put that on the field,” Judge said, “we give them a product they can be proud of.”

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