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Twice since the last time they got it right, the Giants got it wrong.
This time, with Joe Judge as their head coach, it has felt right.
For the first time since 2004 — when Tom Coughlin was hired and went on to coach 12 seasons, putting two Lombardi trophies inside the glass-enclosed trophy case in the lobby of the Giants training facility — it feels like ownership has chosen the right head coach.
The fact that Judge isn’t preparing the Giants for one of the six playoff games scheduled for this weekend, instead finishing 6-10 and out of the postseason for the fourth consecutive season and eighth in the past nine might not back that up.
But this feels different from the previous two post-Coughlin hires.
Ben McAdoo, even when he took the Giants to the playoffs in his first season (2016) with Coughlin’s players, never felt right since that awkward introductory press conference, where it looked like he was wearing a suit for the first time.
McAdoo lasted just 12 games into his second season (2-10) before being fired. When a coach is fired just 12 games after an 11-5 season in which his team went to the playoffs, something is very wrong inside the building, specifically inside the locker room.
Enter Pat Shurmur.
Full disclosure: After having interviewed Shurmur in Minnesota as the Giants were about to hire him in 2018, I was convinced he possessed the perfect temperament for the demanding New York market.
As it turned out, I could not have been more wrong. Shurmur proved to have some of the thinnest skin of any New York head coach in recent memory. Along with his rabbit ears and defensive demeanor, Shurmur’s 5-11 and 4-12 finishes in 2018 and 2019 doomed him.
Judge, who was hired despite being a first-time head coach, has struck the right chords so far. It’s early, and 6-10 is 6-10, so we can end up being all wrong about this, but the vibe around the team tells you there’s a lot more respect for the head coach in the building than there was for the previous two men occupying the office.
That respect was echoed by Giants co-owner John Mara in an end-of-the-season Zoom call with reporters Wednesday.
“Looking back a year ago, I’m very pleased with the selection we made at head coach,’’ Mara said. “I thought Joe did a very good job considering what he had to deal with. When you think about it, here you had a brand-new head coach at 38 years of age and look what he was asked to deal with — a pandemic, no offseason program, no minicamps, no preseason games, virtual meetings, protocols that kept changing and he loses his best player [running back Saquon Barkley] in Week 2.
“I thought he showed great leadership and great adaptability. I mean, nothing seemed to faze him during the year. If something had to change, he just made the change and went from there. I thought he showed real leadership and grit and determination the entire time.
“I thought he represented our franchise very well, the way I want our head coach to represent our franchise. I thought he established a great foundation and a great culture. I know that culture word is so overused, but I think it’s so important, and I think we have the beginnings of a very good culture here.’’
Judge needs to turn that good culture into more wins in 2021, starting with at least nine or 10 and a playoff berth. So, if we’re being fair, the praise must be tempered until we gather more information.
We should not ignore the fact that, after the upset win in Seattle got the Giants to 5-7 and in control of the NFC East, they went on to lose their next three games and were barely competitive in any of them to lose that control. So, amid all the good things Judge showed in his first year, that disappointing stretch is a part of his story, too.
But, in the bigger picture, having Judge leading this team does feel like a positive, constructive restart for Mara and the Giants.
“Obviously, I’m not pleased with the number of games we won,’’ Mara said. “I’m disappointed we didn’t make the playoffs. We had every opportunity to do that. I’m disappointed we couldn’t do better than 6-10, but I do see progress. I’m excited about the future.
“The fact that we were 5-3 in the second half of the season gives me encouragement. What I wanted to see this year was some progress and some reason for optimism going forward, and I did see that.’’
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