Coach Joe Judge on how to build culture in an unprecedented offseason


Q: There has been a lot of talk about how first-year coaches might be at a bit of a disadvantage with the way this whole process is playing out with not being able to get in the building and having to rely on Zoom. As someone that’s never been a head coach before, is there anything about this that’s advantageous to what you’re trying to do and what you’re trying to build?

A: I think the advantage goes to who is most prepared from this point forward. That’s what we’ve been working on doing and focusing on what we can control. Our IT Department, along with our coaching staff, did a great job with setting up the use of computers. Our players are doing a great job of accessing all of the information and working with us in the allotted time. We have a lot of guys that are showing a lot of urgency. They do everything they can to give themselves a head start heading into training camp. That’s really what the spring is about.

Q: Is it more difficult not knowing what training camp is going to look like? Obviously, you’re coming in trying to set a foundation, build a culture and kind of leave your mark on the team in all aspects. But not knowing what the future holds, what’s that like as a coach and what’s that like for these players?

A: I’ve mapped out training camp based on the calendar leading up to our opening game right now. Any adjustments we have to make based on that, we’ll make accordingly. That’s my job to be prepared and have contingency plans for the team to operate. We’ve talked through different scenarios, but right now we’re mapping out training camp assuming that we’re opening up on September 14 with the Steelers. We’re looking forward to that.

Q: You mentioned earlier on another day that it’s imperative for these players to start forming bonds, and some of that has to be them doing it themselves. How about you with the players? A head coach has to bond with the players. Is that more difficult now, and is there anything you can share, anything you know more about certain of your players, a good example of one or two of those, that you didn’t know just from the laptop, remote, things like that ? Something that you know now that you did not know.

A: I’ll tell you what, we found different ways throughout the meeting times to work together. I found time to grab certain players out of the meetings. I’m going to work my way through the team as we go throughout the rest of spring, making sure I get face time with each one of these guys. Leading up to this, I spent some time talking to these guys on the phone really just checking on them and their family. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of these guys in person when we were still in the building. They were still around working out. I would say one of the interesting things about this whole process is just like we’re doing right now, as somebody else is speaking, really everyone has the freedom to look around right now and really observe how people are. When there’s an assistant coach presenting, everybody in there is also presenting themselves and how they conduct themselves in a meeting. You’re looking around, how’s the guy set up in his house? Is it a quiet setting? How is he dressed? What’s his eye focus like? Are his eyes down? Is he trying to text? We haven’t had a lot of that. We’ve had a lot of guys with great urgency. You have the opportunity in this setting here to really see your players in a meeting standpoint where they really can’t hide. Right now, we’re on a one by one box on this screen, but we’re all face to face. You don’t know who’s looking at who at this time, so everything you’re doing at all times is really what you’re being evaluated on.

Q: Obviously, you’re looking, you’re not spying on them. Everyone knows, on this also, it’s open.

A: I’ve made this clear to our players. Everybody is always making an impression. I can’t sign on with the team and stumble through a team talk and show shoddy film and have technology that doesn’t work, and have them think ‘Ok, this guy is going to be ok. He knows what he’s doing. ‘ We’re always creating an impression. We’re always forming an opinion of ourselves. But along with that, let’s not get confused. We’re not going to evaluate a football team based purely on how they are on a computer. We can go down to Circuit City and find a great football team on a computer. But we want to make sure right now that, look, we’re just trying to give the players an opportunity to learn our material, to learn our systems, to get a head start going into training camp. We’re trying to be as much of a resource for these guys as we possibly can. We only get two hours a day with the vets. But we get two hours a day with the vets, we need to use those two hours as much as we can. Along the way, we’ve used everything the league has allowed us to use in terms of loading up playbooks and cut ups and voiced-over installs for the players to watch at their own pace on their own. We’re trying to get ahead of everything that they may need. Look, until we get on the grass, you really can’t evaluate a football player. You just can’t do it. I’ve made it clear to our team, this spring is about learning. This spring is about building a base so when we get there in training camp, we can play fast and we can play aggressive. You’ll be evaluated in training camp. Right now, we’re learning. Now along the way, you are making an impression.

Q: From your perspective, if you were in the building and circumstances were the traditional format you would see leaders emerge, guys looking at the veterans or even looking at some rookies who have set the tone. Will you take it upon yourself to reach out to some guys and say are you guys getting together? Do you want to see who emerge as the leaders of this team or is too early?

A: The interesting thing is, early on in this process, I think we all had a lot of question marks in terms of how we are going to see relationships, how we are going to see leadership, how are we going to see all this emerges. Naturally it always comes to the surface. You can see a lot of guys from interactions in meetings. You can see who is going to take the reins and start the communication. You can identify from different players who is standing out front and organizing some extra communication exercises on their own at the time. You still have the ability to see who is stepping out in front. As I’m talking to these players individually and asking them for direct feedback as well, you can tell how engaged and really how invested they are in the program by the answers they give you. It’s been very telling and I’m very pleased with the way our players are working right now. Whereas on the front end, there was a lot of talk about what we can’t do, I think we are finding out along the way we are getting a lot done because this is the asset that we have to use and we are finding ways to use it. These players are inventive, they are going to find different ways to get together with each other and socially interact. They are going to find different ways to get together and study with each other and get caught up with material and help each other out with notes. Maybe even more so now than some other springs in the past because the reality is everyone’s situation is different around the country. You have to find what to do in your free time. Things still aren’t opened up everywhere. Every state is a little bit different, but generally speaking the country is still closed down for the most part. These guys are in areas where they have a lot of free time in their day where there is not a lot to do necessarily.

Q: I know you have accepted the limitations that you have in this situation. All things considered, do you think you as a first-time coach you should get a pass this year based on the inability to be normal?

A: All I’m focused on doing is everything to put our team in a position to play their best ball now. I’m not thinking about anything outside of the scope of that. Whatever we have to work with, we are going to make work for us. We’re going to get into training camp and go ahead and make sure we get these guys on the grass and put them through it. Identify the best 53 for our team and then the best actives for game day and go forward with it. We’re not thinking about what we don’t have right now, that’s not an option or thinking about what we have access to. Every day, we are focusing on how to get better and that’s my only focus right now.

Q: What went into the decision to claim Cooper Rush?

A: Like everyone else in the league, we are looking at the waiver wire every day. We are always trying to acquire good football players for our team. The competition in training camp will sort a lot of things out. When we see a good player out there and we think he is someone that can be an asset to our team and come in here and compete, that’s all we’re considering. He was someone that came across the waiver wire that we had known about and some had experience with him. We thought it would be a positive move for our team.

Q: Five quarterbacks is obviously a lot. Is the roster construction different because you don’t have to get on the field and have a certain minimum at different positions? Can you alter how you construct the roster right now?

A: You definitely can. You can have 90 quarterbacks right now because you don’t have to worry about throwing to anybody. In terms of going to camp right now, we’ll address that as we get closer to camp in terms of all the positions. We obviously have a template like everybody else has of the desired numbers at each position. I think the overriding factor is you don’t want to turn away a good player just to suit the numbers. You kind of structure practice accordingly to make sure there is as many good players on your roster as there possibly could be.

Q: You mentioned earlier that you have players in different areas of the country, some in places where things are re-opening. Some players can go to beaches or gyms and others can’t. Are you able to give them any guidelines or restrictions on what they should and shouldn’t do? How worried are you that doing something normal like going to a gym could end up hurting the health of one of your players?

A: I think everyone has to make the decisions based on their own circumstances of where they are at. We’re concerned about the health of all our players. We have a training staff with Ronnie Barnes and his guys that they have full time access to for guidance on whether or not they should go somewhere or shouldn’t go somewhere. Everyone’s situation is different. One thing the league has allowed us to do is provide some equipment to guys that don’t have access to gyms, which we’ve done accordingly. We’ve made a decision not to track workouts as a lot of other clubs have as well this spring for a multitude of reasons. The biggest thing we have been able to do is provide our strength coach to be an asset that if they want to reach out and ask him questions, along with our nutritionist and training staff. The league has allowed us to upload programs to follow if they choose to. Obviously it’s the spring, it’s voluntary, nothing is required. We just want to make sure we have answers to questions the players may have as we go. The biggest concern for me is without having a spring is making sure the players are in good enough shape coming back to practice. That’s the one thing the spring is heavily beneficial for these players. They can play football and do football movements and get in football shape before coming in and competing for a job while playing football. As a coach, I’ve got to put us in the best situation possible to practice hard to compete and to avoid injuries at the same time early in training camp. The new CBA laid out a lot of guidelines that’s geared towards looking out for the players early on in training camp to make sure they don’t come in and get thrown into the fire without an acclimation period. I think that’s something working through the CBA that will help long term with these guys. Immediately, this year without having a spring, the biggest thing we can emphasize with our players is whatever you have to do, whatever you have access to, we have all the resources you need. Make sure when we come into training camp you have given yourself every opportunity possible to be in the best shape so you can physically stay healthy, stay on the field and compete.

Q: You spoke earlier about the type of offensive system you are going to install. Can you talk about the defensive system that Patrick Graham is putting together?

A: It’s going to be a multiple answer and everyone says, what does that mean? The easiest way to describe that is you go back to last year in Miami where Patrick was, you can follow that through the different systems he’s been a part of whether it’s New England. He had experience in New York and Green Bay, and there is a little difference in flavors of defense as well. We’ll be a team that’s multiple by game plan and how we have to matchup and attack the opponent. The elements of the defense you can really look through and what it will closely resemble will really be the other stops that Patrick has been along his way that I have been there as well. The New England system, some of the Houston system, the Tennessee system, the Miami system. Those families of defense will be the biggest influences that go into ours. Of course, ours will be mostly dictated by the players we have in the games.

Q: In terms of special teams, obviously Thomas McGaughey is an outstanding special teams coach, how much of your influence from the Patriots are you going to bring to the Giants special teams?

A: I will be involved with all three sides of the ball, but T-Mac is the special teams coordinator here.

Q: There’s that (Muhamad) Ali quote about preparation. “The fight is won or lost far away from witnesses. Behind the lines out there on the road long before a dance under those lights.” You were talking earlier about preparation. Is your message to your guys that there is no substutute for grinding now? This hard work now can pay off later.

A: There’s no short-cut to success. You have to put one day with the next and keep putting them together and that’s going to string together and give you an opportunity to be successful. It’s all about preparation. We have to do a good job preparing, preparing physically, preparing mentally. That’s truly our message to the team, we’re providing them with the opportunity, we want to be a resource for the players at this point. Give them every opportunity to learn our systems so when they get in, we can continue to learn, but it’s going to be a at a faster pace in training camp obviously. That’s where the competition really begins.

Q: Can you talk a little bit about how you got Patrick Graham? Obviously, he was under contract in Miami and you know Brian Flores. How did that come about?

A: Without going too much into different conversations, we followed the league procedure, we put in a request to speak with him. They granted the request and he was our top choice.

Q: You guys used the tag on Markus Golden. How did that come about? I think the Patriots are one of the only teams to use that in recent years when you were there. Have you talked to Markus since you guys put the tag on him?

A: Without going into what we talked about, yes, I have spoken with Markus. I have a lot of respect for him as a player. He’s a great person, he’s a hard worker. He’s a productive player so we have a lot of respect for him. He’s definitely someone that I have spoken to in terms of possibly adding to the roster. We placed the tag on him. That’s something that’s allotted to us through the league rules. We thought that it was a situation when it came up and was available to us, it was something we could use. We have an interest in Markus, we’ve talked to him. We are going through the procedure right now. We’re going to let it play out a little bit and see where everything shakes out.

Q: Are you preparing your players to play in front of an empty stadium. If you have to do that, how do you prepare guys to do that, have the same energy etc. From your perspective, what do you think the NFL should do? Do you think it’s more important that we wait and start a season later so that everything can be normal? As a coach, is it best that you wait for the ready set go or not?

A: As far as our approach, the league will make those decisions. I think the one thing the league is being very consider of is everybody’s safety. Players, fans, and everybody. I don’t think anyone wants to play in front of empty stadiums. The fans are a huge part of this game. Playing in front of stadiums, that’s where the juice and the energy comes from on a weekly basis. We don’t have fans at practice, so we prepare them every day without people watching. These guys have to go out and they will be prepared for whatever the situation is. Truly, we want the fans there. It would be a different atmosphere. We prepare for whatever, but the fans are a huge part of this game and we definitely want them there.

Q: Would you consider training camp being driving distance? Somewhere around New Jersey?

A: To be honest with you, if we can’t practice at the facility, I would like it to be the best set up possible. There’s a lot of factors that go into that in terms of field space, training room, weight room, food for the players, rooms and accommodations. These guys have off days in training camp as well. One of the advantages of being at the facility is these guys have a chance to go home see their wives and kids on the off days. That’s a big part of it. Our training camp practices are open. It’s important to me that the players get to go out there and walk off the field and see their wives and kids and girlfriends on the way off the field. Spend 10 minutes of keeping things in perspective before you go in there and over-analyze everything you did on the field. In terms of where we go, hopefully we are in the facility. That’s really what we are pushing for. If the league determines something else, our Ops department is in the middle of having that organized in case we have to go that way. We’ll see what’s available. I can’t really answer that as a hard question, it’s a little bit more of a hypothetical there. I would rather be in the facility than anywhere else.

Q: Final question is where did you get the haircut?

A: I got some clippers and I experimented on my back deck. It took a little while longer than a normal haircut. To be honest with you, I kind of have that quarantined hair falling off of my ears for a little bit. My wife cut my youngest son’s hair and it looks like he got in a fight with a broken bottle. I did my own a little bit.