Joe Judge was given two days to try to defend two bad seasons.
Ultimately, he could not. Who could?
The Giants announced on Tuesday that Judge had been relieved of his duties as head coach, ending a two-year tenure that began with the promise of a return to the franchise’s days of glory but wound up more reminiscent of its days of deep despair.
Judge went 10-23 in his two seasons, but it was the last month or so of inept performances that made it impossible for the Giants to retain him. They lost their final six games of the season, each by double-digit margins, with increasingly poor play that pushed ownership past its patience.
“I said before the season started that I wanted to feel good about the direction we were headed when we played our last game of the season,” co-owner John Mara said in an announcement on Tuesday evening. “Unfortunately, I cannot make that statement, which is why we have made this decision.”
The firing came a day after the team announced the retirement of general manager Dave Gettleman. It left the two most important leadership positions in the organization vacant, giving fans of the team who had been howling for a complete overhaul of the organization what they wanted: a fresh start at a rebuild and a complete do-over.
“We appreciate Joe’s efforts on behalf of the organization,” Mara said.
Irate fans long angered by Judge’s failures undoubtedly appreciated his dismissal more than his efforts. Many saw it as a promising sign that ownership is aware of the state of the franchise and is willing to attempt big strides to renovate it rather than baby-step fixes with in-house solutions that have become maddeningly routine.
The Giants are to begin interviews with general manager candidates — none of whom has ever worked in their front office, which is a rarity for the organization — on Wednesday morning, and Mara said whoever they hire will “lead the effort to hire a new head coach.”
All eight known candidates for the general manager position come from teams now preparing for the postseason, so time is not as critical to the coaching search; if any were to bring an assistant coach or coordinator from his current organization, such a hire could not be made until that team is eliminated from the playoffs anyway.
The Giants’ failures predated Judge’s arrival in 2020. It has been a decade of disappointment for a team that has not won a postseason game since its Super Bowl victory in February 2012 and has been to the playoffs once in that span. Judge becomes the third straight head coach to be fired by the Giants after two seasons (or even less), following the rapid departures of Ben McAdoo and Pat Shurmur.
Like those firings, Judge’s can be linked in part to a lack of winning personnel. The Giants never won a game after quarterback Daniel Jones’s season ended with a neck injury in late November, and the team rarely had all of its offensive playmakers on the field at the same time.
Judge coached just a handful of games with Saquon Barkley at full strength. The running back tore his ACL in Week 2 of the 2020 season and spent most of this year recovering from that and a subsequent ankle injury. The offensive line the Giants envisioned for the 2021 season never materialized and the team played most of its games with backups and third- and fourth-stringers on the field.
But even beyond those roster handicaps, Judge did himself no favors.
His tenure was punctuated by some absurd moments in its final days that will join other nadirs of team futility. There was the veering 11-minute speech after the Week 17 loss to the Bears in which he touted the changes to the team’s culture that have taken place behind the scenes. In the Week 18 home loss to Washington, with the Giants near their own goal line, he called a pair of quarterback sneaks to create space for a punt. Those will stand alongside such moments of ignominy and ridicule as The Fumble by Joe Pisarcik in 1978 and Ray Handley’s hostile news conferences.
After 2020 and again coming into 2021, Mara expressed confidence that he had hired the right man for the job in Judge. That sentiment deteriorated at astonishing speed.
It was a precipitous collapse for Judge, who as recently as late this season seemed poised to return. Upon hiring Judge, Mara had said he wanted to show him more patience than his predecessors had been granted, and there were indications that Judge might even wield power in the team’s general manager search.
Unlike other teams that missed the playoffs and fired their coaches on Monday, the Giants wanted to give Judge an opportunity to present his side of the downfall this year and also outline the potential changes he envisioned making to the team, with an emphasis on sparking an offense that was one of the worst in the NFL. They even allowed him to address the team before the players departed for the offseason on Monday afternoon, a meeting that included sharing some of his plans for 2022 and beyond.
Mara and fellow co-owner Steve Tisch met in person with Judge later on Monday afternoon. Mara and Judge met again on Tuesday before Judge was informed of the decision and the Giants began what will be their latest attempt at a return to success.
Worst winning percentages for a coach in Giants history:
Bill Arnsparger (1974-76) 7-28 .200
Pat Shurmur (2018-19) 9-23 .281
Joe Judge (2020-21) 10-23 .303
*Steve Spagnuolo was 1-3 (.250) as interim coach in 2017.