The Giants are a franchise perched atop a cliff with no safety net between them and the rocks below. So this seemed like a moment in their history when taking a risk was exactly the wrong thing to do.
They have a general manager on the hot seat. They've been changing coaches like their players change cleats. They have endured far more losing than winning for most of the last decade. And they have lost all of their credibility with their fans.
So give them credit for this much, at least: When the safe play seemed like the best play to everyone outside their building, when an experienced and winning head coach seemed like a must, the Giants were not afraid to make a dangerous decision.
And boy did they just climb out on a limb with Joe Judge.
Maybe Judge will turn out to be the next Bill Parcells. There certainly have been plenty of coaches in NFL history to come out of nowhere and turn into legends. The Giants obviously think they found an undiscovered gem in the 38-year-old Patriots special teams coordinator who has spent almost all of his career studying at Bill Belichick's and Nick Saban's feet.
And there are people around the NFL who think they are right. If nothing else, he's no more of a ridiculous choice than when the Baltimore Ravens hired Eagles special teams coordinator John Harbaugh out of nowhere in 2008. And that certainly worked out OK.
But here's the big difference. The Giants aren't exactly in a nothing-to-lose position. They have absolutely staked their reputation as a franchise on this hire. And everyone in the front office has their job riding on being right. Swinging and missing on an accomplished, Super Bowl-winning coach like Mike McCarthy, or a top college coach like Matt Rhule would be somewhat forgivable.
Swinging and missing on an unheralded, unknown, coaching prospect is a career-killing move.
This is the Giants feeling like they discovered something that everyone else has been missing. And if they're wrong, if Judge turns out to be the next piece of rotten fruit off the Belichick coaching tree, he's going to take the whole organization down with him. Because the next step - the only step - if this doesn't work out will be for John Mara and Steve Tisch to completely clean house.
And no one, most especially their paying customers, will trust that they'll be capable of doing that job right.
So yes, they do deserve credit for moving outside of their comfort zone and not following their usual script. They almost always hire someone they know, with ties to the organization. And they strongly prefer head coaching experience, too.
Judge has none of that. That's why he seemed like something of an afterthought when the search began. But that apparently quickly changed after the Giants interviewed him on Monday. What he had, according to a source, is a commanding presence and a Belichick-like brilliance and vision. He appears to have wowed them in the interview, and the Giants went into this process open to being wowed.
That, in itself, was a risky approach. The safe play in this whole search would've been to go hard after Ron Rivera or McCarthy before they landed elsewhere in the NFC East - to pursue the known commodities. The Giants had interest in both, according to a source, but they preferred their search to be deliberate. Rivera was off the board and signed in Washington before the Giants even officially started looking. And while the Giants had the first shot at McCarthy and wanted to talk to him again, a source said, the Cowboys were more aggressive and McCarthy took their deal.
As for Rhule, he was most definitely the Giants' No. 1 choice right up until the moment he called on Monday night and informed the team of Carolina's absurd offer, according to a source. The Giants loved Rhule and wanted to hire him, but not enough to give him a seven-year contract or to guarantee him $62 million like the Panthers did. Judge had just impressed them for several hours before Rhule called too, so it didn't take much convincing, apparently, to get everyone to pivot quickly and agree to turn Rhule down.
Paying Rhule would have been safer and easier, though. In fact, almost any other route would have had less risk. Rhule had long been publicly anointed as their top choice, so no one would have revolted if they opened the bank for him. Everyone would've understood if they had fired Pat Shurmur earlier and made a real run at Rivera. Or if they made a big, preemptive strike to keep McCarthy from landing in Dallas, even if it meant cancelling their scheduled interview with Rhule.
All of those moves would've been easier to sell. All of them would've resulted in the Giants being coached by a man with more experience. All of them would've left people inside and outside of the organization feeling like the team, for the first time in years, was in good hands.
Now? Nobody knows. Not Mara, not Tisch, not Gettleman, not the players, and certainly not the understandably skeptical fans. There is hope and faith, for sure, but little knowledge or history on which to base that. It's a giant leap for everybody involved.
That's the risk they're taking. It could swing wildly either way. There were no guarantees with anyone, but at least they would've known that Rivera, McCarthy or Rhule could handle the big chair and wouldn't melt under the head coach's responsibilities. They can only guess and pray that Judge can handle it, too.
Maybe he'll be the next McCarthy or Rivera. Maybe he'll be even better. Or maybe he'll be the next Ray Handley instead. Considering their precarious position, that's a real big gamble for the Giants to take. Time will tell if they chose the right path to get back up the mountain.
All we know for sure at the moment is that there were safer ways to go.