After embarrassing end to season, Joe Judge's future is more in doubt than ever

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  • New York Giants
    New York Giants
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Joe Judge
    American football coach (born 1981)
  • Dave Gettleman
    American football general manager
Joe Judge looking down hands on hips 1/2/22 cropped
Joe Judge looking down hands on hips 1/2/22 cropped

There were no 11-minute rants this time, no apparent pleas to keep his job, and not much focus on the positive, either. Instead, Joe Judge began by saying the 22-7 loss to Washington that punctuated a 4-13 season “ultimately … wasn’t good enough” and that “My focus right now is already on next season, immediately.”

The real question, though, is whether the Giants’ next season will include him.

It sure looked like it would just a couple of weeks ago, according to sources around both the league and the team. But the caveat to that was always that Judge’s job was only safe as long as the end of the season didn’t turn into a complete embarrassment.

And then it did.

Whether that pushed Giants co-owner John Mara over the edge is anybody’s guess, but there is increasing suspicion that maybe it did. There is no question that Mara believes in Judge – he has said so publicly and privately. He even pledged his full support to him as recently as late October. And when he hired Judge two years ago, he promised to be more patient than he’d been with his previous head coaches who were both fired after just two years.

But patience and faith both have their limits. And after the way the last six weeks have gone with the Giants turning into a league-wide joke, Mara might have finally reached his.

The one thing that is clear with the Giants is that Dave Gettleman will be a former Giants general manager by Monday morning, when he will officially announce his retirement. He was taking pictures on the field before the game with family and friends, making it fairly obvious that was his final game. He’ll leave with a four-year record of 19-46, and will leave behind a team with questionable talent and a salary cap mess.

But while the decision on Gettleman was easy, Judge’s situation is much more complicated, even though his record of 10-23 is equally dismal. He went from solid ground to shaky ground as the Giants finished out the season on a six-game losing streak. On one level that was hardly surprising since it coincided with the loss of their starting quarterback, Daniel Jones. But it was their remarkable non-competitiveness that had to really infuriate Mara.

The Giants lost those six games by an average score of 27-9.

And along the way, Judge’s public image took a brutal beating. That was a self-inflicted wound, thanks in part to some of his odd, long, rambling answers during press conferences which at times have seemed like some artful self-promotion designed for his bosses to hear. Fans, who seemed to believe in the promise of his program a year ago, clearly have jumped off his bandwagon.

And several former players – including Hall-of-Famer Michael Strahan – have called for Judge to be fired, too.

Mara surely has heard all that. Whether he’s listening is unclear.

Joe Judge
Joe Judge

What happens next could also be part of a lengthy process. A team source said last week that there was no indication the franchise was preparing for an immediate coaching change. That could be because Mara will want his next general manager to weigh in on the coach first. Since that search could take a few weeks, Judge potentially could be in limbo for a while.

There is also the possibility for some Game of Thrones-like intrigue behind the scenes while he waits. Judge is reportedly pushing for the Giants to promote assistant GM Kevin Abrams to GM, which makes sense since a source said they’ve developed a good working relationship and Abrams would presumably keep Judge as head coach. Promoting Abrams to succeed Gettleman had been Mara’s preference for years, but in the wake of this season’s carnage he knows an internal promotion might be impossible to sell.

If Mara does hire an outside candidate for GM, though, many of the best coaching candidates could be off the market by the time the new GM is in place. That could put the Giants at a disadvantage whether Mara fires Judge immediately or waits and allows his new GM to make the call. That possibility could work in Judge’s favor, too.

It’s also worth noting that the Giants haven’t let a GM hire a coach on his own since they were being run by the late George Young. Ownership has always been heavily involved in the head coaching searches, with Mara usually making the final decision.

New York Giants co-owner and CEO John Mara on the field before the Giants face the New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in East Rutherford.
New York Giants co-owner and CEO John Mara on the field before the Giants face the New York Jets on Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019, in East Rutherford.

There’s also one other potentially complicating factor in this mess: One source said that co-owner Steve Tisch is in favor of sweeping changes in the organization, including hiring a new GM and head coach.

It should be noted, though, that every time a big decision nears at the end of a season there are rumblings that Tisch wants big changes and plans to get more involved in the process. But in the end, his influence is rarely that strong and whatever happens has always turned out to be Mara’s call.

Only Mara knows for sure what that call will be and whether he’ll clear up any of this mystery by Monday. As of now, he’s not scheduled to speak to the press anytime soon and might not until all the decisions are made. It’s possible he’ll take a few days to sort everything out.

In the meantime, Judge will twist and wait until Mara gives him some clarity about his future. Until that happens, he’ll surely be wondering how it all went so wrong, so quickly, and whether over the last six weeks his battered, beleaguered team played him right out of a job.