Call It Like It Is: Giants' Joe Judge can't keep selling progress when it's not there

·6 min read
Joe Judge yelling about a call Chiefs game
Joe Judge yelling about a call Chiefs game

The first view the world got of Joe Judge as head coach made it seem like he was a cartoon villain. He seemed so nice at first, even rolling in the mud with his players. He was all smiles, right until his players made a mistake.

Then the veins would pop, the screaming would start, and a dictionary full of unprintable words would echo around the Meadowlands. He was like the old TV version of the Hulk: Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.

Except Giants fans did.

And they sure would like to see a little more of Angry Joe right now.

Judge has made it clear he’ll never rip his players publicly, and it’s obvious Practice Joe will never be the same as Press Conference Joe. So if watching his team makes him want to throw a chair through a window, he’s not going to do it in front of a camera.

The problem with that is that’s what fans want, and the 39-year-old, first-time head coach still hasn’t realized that these live-streamed, postgame news conferences are really more for the fans than for his players. And those fans aren’t stupid. They also tend to be understandably intolerant when they’re paying for an awful product and the salesman smiles and says, “Everything is fine!”

Because it’s not fine. The Giants were not “moving in the right direction” with their ugly, 20-9 loss in Miami on Sunday. There were not “a lot of players” making “a lot of big plays.” There was no reason to be “pleased” with the offense or – my goodness – “encouraged” by the offensive line.

Those were all real quotes from Judge in the aftermath of the Giants’ eighth loss in 12 games, the one in which they scored nine points, gained 250 yards, and had just two plays of 20 yards or more. There were heads exploding and TVs shattering all across the tri-state area when he said, in just the third sentence of his postgame remarks, that “There was a lot of things … that are moving in the right direction, a lot of things I'm very pleased with in terms of how we competed.”

Now Judge is not an idiot, even if if sometimes seems like he plays one on TV. He knows the major issues on his team. He’s also as disgusted with their recent performances as anyone, and you can be sure he lets his players know it as soon as the doors to the locker room are shut.

But his public remarks are just not playing well – and in a big, unforgiving market like New York, that still matters. Wins and losses will always matter more than anything else when it comes to job security and how coaches and athletes are viewed. But when the paying customers start losing faith that the people in charge understand the problem and can do something about it, they stop caring. Then they stop showing up.

And yes, even the Giants can become irrelevant in such a big town.

So maybe Judge doesn’t want to punch a hole in the wall in public, but he needs to at least recognize that he’s making a whole generation of Giants fans want to smash their phones, computer screens and TVs. They seemed generally OK with his selling hope and progress and blind faith last season when it was widely understood that, as a rookie coach, he was starting over. Fans understand it takes time to build a program, and they were willing to give Judge the time, space and (for the most part) support that every coach needs.

But he’s 10-18 now. The offense has produced just 32 points in the last three games combined. They’ve gone four straight games without gaining 300 yards and haven’t gained more than 302 in a game since Oct. 10. They are getting worse, not better. At times it seems like they’re only accidentally competitive.

He promised a team with heart, with a blue-collar work ethic (whatever that means), and a team that would fight. Instead, what they’ve become is a disheartening, unwatchable mess of a team that will be lucky to win another game the rest of this year.

This is the pig that Judge is attempting to put lipstick on: They are headed to their fifth straight season of double-digit losses – the seventh straight such season in the last eight years. Barring a miracle of miracles, they will miss the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 seasons. And based on how they’ve been playing, plus their alarming lack of salary cap space, there’s not a lot of hope that this decade of disappointment is going to end next year.

That’s not all on Judge. It’s not even all on GM Dave Gettleman, though he’s the most likely to take the fall for all the failures. It’s been, to borrow a Judge phrase, “a collaborative effort” involving many coaches, executives and players over many years.

But Judge is the face of that right now and his voice – by his own design – is the one speaking to the fans for the franchise. And right now, he’s just refusing to tell them what they want and deserve to hear. They don’t want to hear about “progress” when there is none, or “a lot of big plays” when they simply don’t exist, or how they should be “encouraged” by an offensive line that got another quarterback concussed and has been an absolute disaster for years.

Maybe Judge will never give the fans the angry, unvarnished truth they want. He’s not going to give subtle (and not-so-subtle) jabs at players the way Bill Parcells used to do, nor will he show the emotion (and sometimes red-faced anger) they used to see from Tom Coughlin.

If the Giants win, that won’t matter. But right now, there’s no sign of winning. So it’s not going to go well for Judge if he continues playing the role of Willy Wonka, basking in the promise of his vision while ignoring the carnage around him. He can’t keep selling invisible progress, phantom big plays, and delusional encouragement. He needs to let the fans know he sees what they see and he’s embarrassed, humiliated and disgusted, too.

It’s fine to protect his players. Criticism doesn’t have to be specific of personal. But he can’t keep trying to convince the world that everything is awesome. Because it’s not. And everyone can see when the emperor has no clothes.

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