Giants head coach Joe Judge continues to prepare in these unique circumstances for his first season leading an NFL team. And while some first-year coaches might be struggling to kick off their program the way they want, Alabama head coach Nick Saban, who had Judge under his wing for a few seasons before he coached in the NFL, thinks his former pupil is going to be just fine.
Saban saw how well prepared Judge was even as an assistant in his Crimson Tide system. So he isn't too surprised to hear that Judge said the team that is the most prepared during these tough times will have an advantage when the season starts.
"When Joe was here, he was a young guy, very bright, enthusiastic, great teacher, really good relationships with the players, had lots of leadership qualities about him because of the example that he set and the energy and the enthusiasm he had on a daily basis," Saban told Giants Huddle, the team's official podcast. "And he was really smart. He had a good understanding of football. So no surprise to me that Joe has gotten to this point in his career, and we certainly wish him well. He did a fantastic job here for us."
While also praising safety Xavier McKinney, who the Giants selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft, Saban had more than just kind words for Judge. He wanted to set the record straight on one thing: don't compare Judge to him.
It's common to compare the disciples of highly-touted coaches to their mentors. With Judge, you get comparisons to Saban and legendary Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Their championship pedigree did play a factor in Judge being a candidate in the first place, but they both spoke at length about why Judge is the right man for the job when he was eventually hired by the Giants.
Saban, though, thinks people need to -- for a lack of better words -- judge him on his own. Not by who he worked under in the past.
"I don't think it's really fair that when you have former assistants on your staff they get compared to their mentors because we all have different situations," Saban said. "We've had the chance to establish our program, establish our team, get the kind of players that we wanted. When you come into a new situation, you've got to, number one, be yourself, be who you are. Don't try to be somebody else and do things the way you want to do them and get the kind of players that you want. It takes some time to build that."
Saban also had something good to say about a long-time Alabama assistant that followed Judge to New York in running backs coach Burton Burns. One of the best in the business, Burns will be tasked with getting the most out of arguably the best running back in football in Saquon Barkley.
Having coached the likes of Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry during their college days, Saban loves that Judge brought in Burns to work with No. 26.
"I think, first of all, Burton is a very fundamental type running backs coach," Saban said. "He has a really good grasp of how players need to press holes, read plays, read blocks, and he's really helped in the development of our players here because of that."
So, as Judge and Burns and the rest of the Giants staff preps for the 2020-21 season, Saban has one final piece of advice for Judge as he embarks on his new journey as a head coach for the first time.
"Don't try to be like somebody else. Be who you are," Saban said.