All eyes on Joe Judge and Robert Saleh as Giants and Jets try to get back to winning ways

By Bob Raissman

Television football directors loved Robert Saleh when he was running the San Francisco 49ers defense. On the sidelines, the man provided visual gold; a jump-for-joy, kick-ass, fist pumping, machine.

Joe Judge, in his first season as Giants head coach in 2020, quickly established who the boss is when he refused to mention, during media sessions, players by their names. Judge was all business, appearing steady and in complete control of everything while coaching in COVID empty stadiums. Would anyone be surprised if Judge was boiling inside?

Or as SNY’s Ralph Vacchiano wrote: “He’s a throwback to an era when football coaches acted like vindictive maniacs at times and it was considered coaching, not a high crime.”

This early August description came a few days after Judge made his entire team — coaches too — run laps following a training camp melee.

Meanwhile, Saleh, the Jets’ first-year head coach, spent camp mostly in a CEO-like fashion. He was cool, calm and low key, rarely even yelling as he surveyed the practice field scene. There was little hint of his San Francisco earthquake days.

It’s not a reach to suggest Saleh will have a rockier first season dealing with the media. Yet it’s Judge who will have the greater challenge. Judge, in his second season, and quarterback Daniel Jones, in his third, enter the campaign facing higher expectations.

For Saleh, there are questions too. Like will he return to gyrating reaction mode when the games count? Who knows? Seriously though, with San Francisco, Saleh established himself as a master motivator. Now, running the sad sack, star-crossed Jets, with the spotlight on rookie quarterback Zach Wilson, Saleh must establish new credentials in an unforgiving media market. Considering he’s following uptight Adam Gase, this should not be a big problem for Saleh, who projects a grounded — down to earth image.

Radio Gasbags, and football writers, are currently preaching patience when it comes to the Jets, but they will be quick to turn on Gang Green if Wilson starts floundering and the team does not play a competitive, entertaining brand of football. Winning will take care of everything. Don’t look for the Jets to get out of the gate fast.

If that’s the case, it will be up to Saleh to convince the media, despite the losing or how Wilson is progressing, that the Jets are on the road to respectability. Most importantly, is Saleh answering questions about a team giving a maximum effort for an entire game?

Saleh must be convincing while selling hope.

To take the heat off Wilson, he must be the face of the franchise.

The organization has already taken a step in that direction by featuring Saleh in ticket-selling advertisements on multiple platforms.

Judge was effective in quickly becoming the face of the Giants last season. He preached a “blue-collar” mentality message, which resonated with the fan base and inside the Valley of the Stupid. Judge’s philosophy continues to be highlighted in current Giants’ ticket-sales ads. His “throwback” approach was also “displayed” (like a photo opportunity) when he pounced on a muddy football during a drill in 2020 training camp and during his explosive reaction to the training camp fight on Aug. 3.

By the time that incident went down, Judge’s media style had been defined. And it was different from his former boss, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

“He [Judge] is verbose and forthcoming, unless it pertains to a player’s personal injury or business…He understandably always puts his guys ahead of any public hunger for information,” said Daily News Giants beat writer/NFL columnist Pat Leonard. “…He’s a fast talker, cramming a lot of information into 10-second bursts. He’s not defensive and seems to be comfortable in his own skin. And he’s certainly much better with the media than expected for someone schooled by The Hoodie.”

Judge “survived” his first controversy after he fired offensive line coach Marc Colombo last November following a curse-filled verbal altercation 10 games into the season. With his leadership bona fides embraced by the media (GM Dave Gettleman has proved to be a go-to target for Gasbags and scribes looking for a negative road to travel), there now will be a desperate need for the Giants to prove to the media that the “Judge Way” works. It’s time to start winning in a highly suspect NFC East. And, unless Judge wants to be constantly challenged at the press conference podium, it’s time for Jones to fulfill the promise the organization saw in him when it made him the sixth selection in the 2019 Draft.

Judge will be hard-pressed to deflect any media heat directed at Jones. Despite his straight-talking approach, it’s a little late for Judge to be selling the future through his media stylings. Now, talk is cheap.

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