FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Most New England Patriots fans are familiar with the team’s top coordinators, Josh McDaniels (offense) and Matt Patricia (defense), but the level of familiarity dips when adding in the third member of the group: Joe Judge.
Judge enters his third season as the team’s special teams coach. While the Patriots haven’t officially awarded him the title of coordinator, that’s undoubtedly what he is to the units that comprise a big part of how Bill Belichick has built the Patriots’ 53-man roster over his tenure.
Judge, 35, follows in the Patriots footsteps of two of the NFL’s best special teams coaches, Brad Seely (1999-2008) and Scott O’Brien (2009-14).
“He’s very intense. Joe is really passionate about what he does,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said. “He has a hyper attention to detail; there is no stone unturned by the time we get to the game, and we feel super prepared and know he’s going to put us in position to make plays. As a player, that’s all you can ask for. And you have to appreciate the energy and passion with which he coaches. I think it really carries over to us as players. We love going out there and playing for him, and for each other.”
Judge, who is a Philadelphia native, usually isn’t available for interviews. But as part of the team’s bye week, the club had media access with assistant coaches and Judge shared his “football journey” for ESPN.com’s weekly feature:
When he first became involved with football: “It was for as long as I can remember. My father [Joseph] grew up playing through college and played a little bit in the Canadian Football League. His brothers played, so we grew up around the game as a football family. I loved it. I started playing at a very young age, the local tackle football team. From there, I played all the way through high school and college. I can’t remember not being around football.”
Favorite teams and players growing up: “From Philly, they’ll disown you if you’re not an Eagles fan. I was also a hardcore Notre Dame. Loved Dan Marino. So I also pulled for the Dolphins when I was a kid, but really, I just loved watching Marino throwing the ball. That was a big thing. He’s a Pennsylvania guy, so as a little kid, there was a feeling like he’s closer than he is. And I was a quarterback until I got to college.”
Playing at Landsdale (Pa.) Catholic High School: “We had a great coach, [Jim] Algeo, who at the time I was playing was already there 30 years. He’s one of the winningest coaches in Pennsylvania. He’s a great man. A great coach. I used to love being around the guys and him. We had a lot of wins, a lot of success in high school, but my favorite things were always the bus rides back from games, the locker-room conversations, the camaraderie. I used to love training camp, when we were together all day, every day. That was always really fun to me. I didn’t have many friends outside football that I was always around, so to me, being at practice was hanging around your friends and I loved it.”
Enrolling at Mississippi State: “Being from Philadelphia, I took a jump and went down South. It was an opportunity. I wasn’t the highest-touted recruit coming out but they gave me a chance to go down there. Coach [Jackie] Sherrill had a lot of Pennsylvania ties through his days at Pitt. When I went down there, there were a number of us from Pennsylvania and Jersey. When I left, I was the only one from north of the Mason-Dixon [line]. It was a great experience. It took me a little while to get adjusted, in terms of being in a different part of the country. But along the way, I met my best friends. I met my wife [Amber].”
Games that stand out at Mississippi State: “My favorite memories playing, I think I’d go with senior year, we beat Florida. We had a coaching change; Sylvester Croom came in. We were coming out of a bye week. We were not the best team going into the bye week and I remember having to recommit to the team as a team. And we came out and beat Florida.”
Taking lessons from Jackie Sherrill into the coaching ranks: “He really introduced me to special teams. I was a kicker and a punter in high school, but that was basically like any other high school kid, it’s just swing a leg and I didn’t really know anything about it. When I got to college, that’s when I was first introduced to the concept of, ‘The more you can, the more valuable you are.’ One of the things that I found helped me in college was that I could hold. As I was holding, I was listening to them coach the kicker over and over. So when the coaches might not be there, I could reinforce the points with my teammates.”
Beginning a coaching career as a graduate assistant at Mississippi State in 2005: “I had to beg for the opportunity to be a grad assistant when I got done playing; Sylvester Croom did not want to have former players as coaches. He thought it was a little bit too close. I said, ‘Let me volunteer for the spring, and if you think I’m worth anything, consider me.’ I went through the spring as a volunteer, and he hired me late May/early June. Other than that, I had no plans. I did three years as a grad assistant, working primarily with the special teams and I always worked with the defense -- the linebackers and a little bit with the safeties. One of the biggest things I learned [from Croom] was the importance of how you treat people. He was genuinely concerned with every player on the team’s future. Coaching is a people business and if you can’t relate, and players don’t trust you, and don’t know that you’re truly invested in their best interest, it’s going to be hard to get the best out of them. ”
Hired as linebackers coach at Birmingham-Southern in 2008: “You do three years as a grad assistant, and then you have to find a job. I was married, we had one kid at the time, and the job came open – small school, just started football. I had a buddy who was the strength coach, he gave me a call and asked, ‘Would you be interested?’ I had to pay some bills. I didn’t care what I was coaching, as long as I was coaching ball. I took the job there, and it was a great experience. It was probably the best learning experience -- you get to finally do it on your own, run what you want to run, and I got to make some mistakes along the way that were probably forgivable.”
Hired at Alabama in 2009 as football analyst/special teams assistant: “I get a call from Amos Jones, who is with the Cardinals now [as special-teams coordinator]. I had GA’d for him at Mississippi State. He played at Alabama and they were looking for a young special-teams guy. They called Amos and he said, ‘Call Joe; he’s 45 minutes away from you.’ I went down for an interview, accepted it the next morning, and never looked back.”
Top memories at Alabama (2009-2011) and what it’s like working under Nick Saban: “Working for Coach Saban, every day is an education. I loved it. When I took the job, the No. 1 thing he hit me with was the emphasis of developing coaches. I took a position which was a low-man-on-the-totem-pole job. I knew it wasn’t going to pay much, knew it wasn’t going to lead to pats on the back. But I just wanted to work -- I wanted the experience; I wanted to learn. He was tremendous. He’s intense. All the great coaches I’ve been fortunate to be around all had the same fundamental philosophy -- it’s no shortcuts, and hard work pays off.”
Hired as Patriots assistant special teams coach in 2012 under Scott O’Brien: “I ended up here through the connection of Coach Saban and Scotty O. When I was at Alabama, I was fortunate to make contacts with Scotty coming through, and Coach’s relationship with the Patriots. A job came open, I was notified about it, I was interested in it, and one thing led to another.”
Coaching special teams under Bill Belichick: “Working for Coach Belichick is such an education – everything from leadership, to roster management, to situational football. You’re always learning, it’s always evolving, and there’s never one set way of doing things. You’re always looking for a better way. That’s something I’ve always believed in, and also to play the best players in everything – offense, defense, special teams. Whoever is the best player will play and that’s why we’ll end up with a variety of players on our units from different positions and that have different roles offensively and defensively. Some have sole roles in the kicking game only. We’re going to find the guys that help us win, and that was also reinforced under Coach Saban at Alabama. That was communicated very, very clearly, not only to me, but to everyone on the staff, that we were going to play our best players and it was going to be an emphasis for us. It’s important to win field position.”
Describing his coaching philosophy: “A smart, tough football team that plays fundamentally sound. If you do those, you always have a chance to be successful.”
Why he got into coaching and describing his football journey: “I got into coaching because they weren’t going to pay me to play. I knew I had to be around the game. I love teaching. My mother’s a teacher; my father was an education major in college. I definitely have it in my blood an enjoyment of seeing people succeed and being a part in trying to help them. … It’s been very rewarding, giving me and my family an opportunity to experience things that we otherwise wouldn’t be able to. When I wake up every morning, whatever time it is, I’m excited to go to work. Every day I come home, no matter how the day went, I appreciate the opportunity I had to go into work.”