Joe Judge collateral damage of a flawed Giants franchise

The Giants failed Joe Judge in more ways than Joe Judge failed the Giants.

That Judge is gone, relegated to a few lines in the next team media guide, is a byproduct of the terrible hand he was dealt, more so than the failings that were revealed as a young, first-time head coach.

To be clear, there were failings. Judge can be a bulldozer when it comes to trying to smooth things over. His working relationship with general manager Dave Gettleman deteriorated during the course of this past season, a situation in which neither is blameless.

Judge did not help himself on several fronts down the stretch of this careening-down-the-road season, unraveling a bit when he needed to stay as solid as possible. When a still-unproven guy goes 4-13 in year No. 2 and his team is outscored 163-56 in a final six-game stretch (all without his starting quarterback, mind you), turning game days into three-hour torture sessions, there is not a strong case to be made for a year No. 3. But there is a case.

The perception of Judge and the reality of Judge are not one and the same. The harsh image fostered by the unfounded “Timmy Tough Nuts’’ label is not close to the entirety of who Judge is as a person and was as a head coach.

He never ripped into his players in public. You think he had some thoughts on the state of his offensive line that he was itching to share after one of those ridiculously feeble offensive showings? There was nary a word from Judge, and those linemen knew he had their backs.

Judge was no Bill Belichick facsimile. He invited a small group of media members who covered the Giants to an after-dinner get-together in his hotel suite in Cleveland during the joint practices with the Browns. Judge, on his own time at the team facility, conducted “chalk talk’’ media sessions, going on the board to explain the intricacies of his offense and defense. He hosted a media dinner in Tucson when the Giants were practicing at the University of Arizona in December. That was far from Belichick-ian.

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New York Giants head coach Joe Judge argues
Joe Judge didn’t get what he needed from the Giants to sniff success.
Robert Sabo

It was not Judge’s fault that he arrived when Gettleman was in the third year of a decision-making slide that largely weakened the roster. Some inside the Giants will insinuate Judge worked his players so hard that his team could never get healthy, which is why eventually he was forced to hold only one hard practice a week. What is undeniable and must be investigated is why the return of the injured players often took longer than the anticipated recovery timeline.

Co-owner John Mara promised patience. Judge told him this was not a quick fix. Sure, it was tough to take some of Judge’s repeated assurances that progress was being made behind the scenes. Sure, his “a lot of things going in the right direction’’ mantra after the 20-9 loss in Miami sounded delusional. But, remember, Judge was told he would have time to build from the ground up and he was certainly led to believe that time would not be restricted to a two-years-or-else deadline.

It was not fair to jettison Judge after only two seasons, but it really was not fair to the general manager search process to retain Judge and have that decision hanging over the new man in charge of the football operations. As usual, the good of the team outweighed the good of the individual, and Judge was the collateral damage.

New York Giants head coach Joe Judge walks with GM Dave Gettleman at practice
Dave Gettleman’s salary cap management left Joe Judge and his staff with too many holes to plug.
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Corey Sipkin

Mara, with all this recent experience, should have down pat the proper gait for his every-two-years routine of walking down the hallway to fire the head coach. He said it was “gut-wrenching’’ to tell Judge he was being fired. Probably not as gut-wrenching, though, as Judge then having to tell his wife, and especially their four kids, that their two-year stay in New Jersey, after making new friends, adjusting to new schools and turning in their Patriots gear for all the Giants stuff, was over and done with.

Judge grinds his coaching staff and his players, and that can be wearing. As the offense foundered, he tried to keep things afloat by micromanaging that side of the ball, but there were too many holes to plug. The roster was hemorrhaging and in need of reinforcements, but the Giants were so tight against the salary cap that they could not afford to bring in any help, leading to a hopelessness among the coaching staff.

“Joe’s a good dude,” one assistant coach said. “He handled it about as well as he could.”

Joe Judge was flawed, but not as flawed as what was going on around him. He was 38 years old when he was hired and 40 when he was told to leave. The Giants said they knew there were going to be growing pains, but they did not give him enough time to grow.

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