The New England Patriots’ coaching staff is seeing some turnover this offseason. After already losing offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels and assistant quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree to the Las Vegas Raiders, the team will soon be adding a familiar face back to the mix: Joe Judge is reportedly set to return to New England.
Judge spent eight years with the Patriots between the 2012 and 2019 seasons, most prominently as their special teams coordinator. However, he is expected to serve as an offensive assistant upon his return — a role not completely unfamiliar to him either: Judge coached the wide receivers in 2019, before his departure to the New York Giants.
After two years in New York, he is now back again. So, what does it mean?
Bill Belichick adds “an excellent coach” to his staff
There is no way around it, Judge’s time with the Giants was a debacle. That said, being a head coach and being an assistant are two very different things. Accordingly, Judge’s qualifications and qualities should not be questioned.
Just ask Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who sang Judge’s praises after he left for New York in 2020.
“Joe has done an outstanding job. He’s an excellent coach,” Belichick said in a statement. “He understands the game well, works extremely hard and is a very good teacher of fundamentals. Joe picks up concepts and coaching points quickly.
“He is an exceptional leader and one of the best coaches I have been around. He has been responsible for coaching units comprised of nearly every player on the roster. That requires an ability to handle many moving parts, make constant adjustments and immediate decisions.”
Obviously, a statement like this needs to be taken with a grain of salt. That said, Belichick would not be bringing Judge back if he doesn’t think he would be adding value to his existing coaching staff — especially with Josh McDaniels gone.
The Patriots trust Judge’s abilities as an offensive coach
As noted above, Judge’s career in New England took place primarily on special teams. He arrived in 2012 to assist long-time coordinator Scott O’Brien before taking over the role himself in 2015. Judge was a very good special teams coach, but it became obvious in 2019 that Belichick and the Patriots are trusting his abilities beyond the kicking game.
Judge worked with the wide receivers that year, and although the position group as a whole struggled — more a result of talent rather than coaching — he earned some experience on his way to becoming a head coach. That experience apparently is enough for Belichick to bring him back into the fold as an offensive assistant now.
Whether that means he will help replace the departed Josh McDaniels remains to be seen. The Patriots could still add another assistant such as Bill O’Brien or Adam Gase to take over some of their long-time coordinator’s responsibilities.
Nonetheless, Judge will likely be more than your usual entry-level assistant coach: the belief is that he will be actively involved with the operation on the offensive side of the ball. Given his one year working with the wideouts that would not be anything new to him.
In fact, there was some buzz around One Patriot Place back in 2020 that Judge would eventually have been groomed as McDaniels’ successor had he not left for New York. Maybe that plan will now be put into place again.
New England gains some flexibility
Every staff member on the Patriots has a title, but reading too much into them can be dangerous. An “offensive assistant” in New England, for example, might have a vastly different job description than one elsewhere. Why? Because Bill Belichick assigns tasks not solely based on what the business card says about a person.
In Judge’s case that means he might see some work with the wide receivers again, or maybe with another position group. He might work with the scouting department, or directly assist Belichick.
If there is something he can do, and Belichick believes he can do it, it will be added to his plate.
Whatever happens, adding as experienced a coach as Judge to the current group bolsters the Patriots’ overall personnel flexibility both in 2022 and beyond: if somebody like Bill O’Brien — he is seen as the lead candidate at the moment — is indeed hired to coordinate the offense but leaves again after a season to pursue potential head coaching opportunities, Judge’s presence might help soften the blow.
The Patriots will have multiple former head coaches on its staff
Lose one former head coach, add another. Even with Josh McDaniels now in Las Vegas, bringing back Judge will keep the number of former head coaches in New England high: not counting former Cleveland Browns head coach Bill Belichick, Judge will be the second ex-HC on the team’s staff alongside Matt Patricia, formerly of the Detroit Lions.
Patricia, McDaniels and Judge all have a similar history. They rose through the ranks under Belichick, left for head coaching offers at a relatively young age, and eventually returned to New England within a few years after flaming out.
McDaniels had plenty of success upon his return, while Patricia took over a prominent but different-looking role last season as well. Judge is the latest reclamation project of sorts, and he comes with lots of experience both as an assistant and, after his two years in New York, as a head coach.
By all accounts, his return can therefore be seen as a positive for the Patriots.