Mike Freeman's 10-Point Stance: Giants, Panthers Take Big Risks with New Coaches

Mike Freeman@@mikefreemanNFLNFL National Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2020

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2019, file photo, New England Patriots special teams coach Joe Judge, center, speaks to head coach Bill Belichick, left, and safeties coach Steve Belichick, right, in the second half of an NFL football game in Foxborough, Mass. The New York Giants and Patriots assistant Joe Judge are working on a deal for him to become the team's head coach, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press The person spoke to the on condition of anonymity Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020, because the deal is not done. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Did the Giants and Panthers take risks they didn't need to? NFL officiating has coaches resigned to their fates. And why there's no preparing for what Lamar Jackson can, and probably will, do. All that and more in this week's 10-Point Stance.


1. Risky Business

The text from one general manager arrived quickly after the deal was done, and it posed a simple question about the Giants' decision to hire Patriots special teams coordinator/wide receivers coach Joe Judge as their new head coach on Tuesday.

"What are they doing?"

Yes, what exactly are the Giants doing?

The Giants, along with the Panthers, who hired Baylor's Matt Rhule hours before, are taking massive risks. They are moves that may pay off, but they are risks nonetheless.

Judge turned 38 last week and only added wide receivers coach to his title this past season. The move brings hopes he could be the next John Harbaugh, who was also a special teams coordinator before he took over the Ravens.

Rhule, 44, built Temple into a respectable program before transforming Baylor from the dumpster fire it was in the wake of Art Briles into a Top 10 football team. No matter how much Rhule impressed Panthers owner David Tepper, the history of coaches hired directly from college into the NFL isn't a good one. Not counting Kliff Kingsbury in Arizona, hired last season, only one of the past four coaches brought in directly from college—Bill O'Brien (52-44)—has been highly successful.

Chip Kelly was 26-21 at his first stop, Doug Marrone was 15-17, and Greg Schiano was 11-21.

There are numerous angles to these two decisions that need to be examined, chief among them how some owners feel hiring inexperienced coaches is better than hiring proven African American ones like Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. But that is another story for another time.

For now, the immediate focus is on why two prominent franchisesespecially the Giants, one of the most buttoned-up franchises in sportsare taking these kinds of risks. 

"Teams think fresh blood is better than recycled blood," one AFC assistant general manager said.

Age has something to do with it, as there is a belief that some of these younger coaches, like potentially Judge, can reach locker rooms better than their older counterparts. It's a flawed belief, but it exists, and it drives a lot of the decisions being made on the coaching front.

Philosophy also plays a role, with more and more teams looking to increasingly incorporate college offenses into the professional game. That's particularly the case with Rhule.

(Perhaps that's why neither team waited to interview Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who at least has some head coaching experience.)

There is some logic to those ideas, but they don't come without a fair amount of room for failure, room neither franchise had to allow. But who knows? Maybe we'll be lauding both of these hires this time next year. Or maybe we'll be asking the same questions again.


2. Not all coaching is the same

STILLWATER, OK - OCTOBER 19:  Head coach Matt Rhule of the Baylor University Bears talks with head coach Mike Gundy of the Oklahoma State Cowboys before their game on October 19, 2019 at Boone Pickens Stadium in Stillwater, Oklahoma.  Baylor's record was
Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Despite the risk, the Panthers' hiring of Rhule wasn't all that surprising given the buzz surrounding him. The challenge for him, the biggest challenge, will be going from commanding a college team to commanding an NFL one. They are completely different skill sets.

Respect for coaches is baked into the college football cake. In the NFL, you must earn it.

As it has been explained to me, in college, a coach says "jump," and players say, "How high?" In the NFL, a coach says "jump," and players ask: "Why? What are the X's and O's of me jumping? What if I leap instead of jump? Are there other options?"

NFL players don't just blindly followunless it's Bill Belichick or Bill Walsh or Andy Reid.

Hopefully, Rhule knows this already, and if he doesn't, he's likely to learn it fast.


3. All publicity is good publicity

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 04: Referee Tony Corrente #99 reviews a play during the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Houston, Houston won 22-19 in overtime. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
Bob Levey/Getty Images

In just one week of postseason football, one fact has become clear: When it comes to officiating games, the NFL has no clue what it's doing. The league is winging it, and it's showing.

In the Bills-Texans game, officials missed an apparent delay of game, and an erroneous blindside block call on Buffalo may have cost the Bills a contest they shouldn't have lost. The league's response? Twiddling of fingers.

In the Vikings-Saints game, tight end Kyle Rudolph definitely pushed off on his game-winning touchdown catch. It's a call refs make 10 times out of 10. This time? Nothing. And the NFL offered a word-salad response when asked why.

In the Seahawks-Eagles game, it was clear Jadeveon Clowney smashed Carson Wentz in the back of the head. But no call. His intent on the play is irrelevant. The hit is illegal. This is the same league whose commissioner once said there is "no higher priority" than player safety. But if that's true, then how does a player to get bash another player in the head without a penalty?

These problems shouldn't be problems anymore. After the Saints got robbed in last year's NFC title game with a non-call on pass interference, a slate of rules was enacted in the offseason to supposedly fix egregious mistakes like that. Yet, all season long, including the playoffs, it has been Groundhog Day.

None of this is to take away from the teams that won. The Bills and Saints had their chances and didn't capitalize.

But these games are too close and too important to not be able to trust they will be officiated correctly. But according to several assistant coaches in both conferences, the league probably isn't losing much sleep over the missed calls.

"The refs are terrible," said one assistant coach still in the playoffs, "and the real issue is the league doesn't really care. The ratings are good, and I think the league believes the various controversies helps with ratings."

It's possible we've been thinking of this all wrong. Maybe, as some coaches are starting to believe, the NFL covertly likes the controversies because people are talking about the league long after the games have ended.

They say the NFL, when it comes to officiating, is living an old axiom: Any publicity is good publicity, even if it's bad publicity.

Indeed, the putrid officiating didn't stop the Seahawks-Eagles matchup from being the highest-rated TV show since the Super Bowl.

What does all of this mean?

Enjoy the gamesif you can.


4. A broken system

HOUSTON, TEXAS - JANUARY 04:  Head coach Bill O'Brien of the Houston Texans argues a call with the officials during the first quarter against the Buffalo Bills of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at NRG Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Houston, Texas. (Photo
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If anyone expects officiating to get any better soon, think again.

Coaches have reached a level of frustration that I haven't heard before. I mean, ever. And considering the plethora of bad calls in recent years, that's saying something.

In general, they have become acclimated to the idea that bad officiating is the new normal.

Some coaches aren't even getting especially upset anymore. They're just beaten down by all the bad calls, and when a mistake is made, they just accept it and move on.

That's part of sports, it's true, but for a multibillion-dollar league, it's a sad truth.


5. There's no speed like game speed

FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS - JANUARY 04: Derrick Henry #22 of the Tennessee Titans carries the ball against the New England Patriots in the second quarter of the AFC Wild Card Playoff game at Gillette Stadium on January 04, 2020 in Foxborough, Massachusett
Adam Glanzman/Getty Images

This weekend's Titans-Ravens game is likely to force both teams to confront challenges that aren't easy to prepare for.

Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson isn't difficult to stop simply because he's so explosive and accurate and smart but also because there's no one on opposing scout teams who can adequately replicate his speed and abilities. So no matter how much you try to prepare for Jackson, you can't.

The same principle applies to Titans runner Derrick Henry.

Henry is 6'3", almost 250 pounds and runs a 4.5 40-yard dash. There are few runners in history with that kind of size and speed.

His uniqueness makes him impossible to prepare for in the same way Jackson's does.

And it should make for a fascinating chess match this Saturday.


6. Can Capt. Kirk do it again?

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA - JANUARY 05: Kirk Cousins #8 of the Minnesota Vikings celebrates after defeating the New Orleans Saints 26-20 during overtime in the NFC Wild Card Playoff game at Mercedes Benz Superdome on January 05, 2020 in New Orleans, Louisian
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The biggest question mark heading into the divisional round isn't what Jackson can do or how Aaron Rodgers will lead a sometimes inconsistent Green Bay offense. It's about whether Minnesota QB Kirk Cousins can replicate some of the big plays he made against New Orleans. If he can, the Vikings are suddenly in business for a deep playoff run. They can go beyond just a nice story in the Wild Card Round and emerge as true Super Bowl-worthy contenders.

It's a big if, but it's possible.


7. Steady as he goes

Here's a delicious football-nerd stat courtesy of ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

Jimmy Garoppolo didn't throw deep often this year, but was successful when he did. Only 6% of his throws were 20+ yards downfield this season (lowest in NFL). But he completed 66% of those passes (19-of-29), the best for any qualified QB since ESPN began tracking that in 2006. https://t.co/Nvpu9HDQ3O

That poses a different sort of challenge for a Vikings secondary that just slowed down Drew Brees in the Wild Card Game. It's weird to think it, but if Garoppolo can remain close to that accurate again, he has a chance to burn Minnesota in a way Brees couldn't.


8. Action Jackson

In case anyone needed a bit more convincing as to why Lamar Jackson may be the front-runner for the NFL MVP, consider this, again from ESPN Stats & Info:

ESPN Stats & Info @ESPNStatsInfo

More on Lamar Jackson...because it's his birthday. There have been 654 instances of a player rushing for 1,000 yards in a season and 126 instances of a player throwing 30 TD passes in a season. Jackson is the only player to achieve both feats in the same season. https://t.co/pMOdEfa5ty

Not Steve Young.

Not Mike Vick.

Not Fran Tarkenton.

Not John Elway.


9. Could the Browns be doing something right?

Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

Like others, I continue to hear the Browns want a coach in place by this Saturday, and that will likely happen.

They've interviewed 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh and Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, and they are scheduled to interview Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Vikings offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski and Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

While it feels like the Browns have done this again and again and againbecause they havewhat's different this time is they are being extensive in their search. Last year, they weren't. Last year, they rushed the process, and they paid for it.

This time maybe they will finally get it right.


10. Brady, Brees still want to play

Bill Feig/Associated Press

I've asked people in both the Patriots and Saints organizations, and it seems, at least for the moment, both Tom Brady and Drew Brees still want to play next year.

Assuming that remains the case, it appears Brees will return to the Saints, but Brady's future in New England seems less certain. He's a free agent, the coaching staff may be breaking apart and he may need better weapons than he has with the Patriots.

It should make for some interesting offseasons for two of the league's better-run franchises.


Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @mikefreemanNFL.