You never know where a seemingly innocuous phone conversation can lead.
When Joe Judge on Wednesday said, “I have a tremendous amount of respect for him as a coach,’’ it sounded like the routine and expected praise for an opponent, in this case Steelers coach Mike Tomlin. When Judge added, “for what he’s done for me personally in my career,’’ it revealed a side to Judge’s ascension in the profession that has not previously been explored.
Judge, 38, said Tomlin, 48, provided “the opportunity as a young coach to tag along at times and impart to me some of the experiences that have helped me develop my own career.’’
The common thread is Amos Jones, in his first year as special projects and situations coach with the Giants. Judge and Jones, 60, go back to Mississippi State, where Judge as a senior in 2004 was a backup quarterback and special teams player and Jones was a special teams assistant and linebackers coach. Judge then embarked on his coaching career as a graduate assistant at his alma mater and spent two more years with Jones.
Tomlin, as it turns out, calls Jones “a longtime coaching friend of mine.’’ Tomlin and Jones worked together as assistants at the University of Cincinnati. When Tomlin took over in Pittsburgh as the head coach in 2007, he hired Jones to work with his special teams.
When Tomlin was the Vikings defensive coordinator, he would sometimes call Jones back at Mississippi State. Sometimes, Judge, as an assistant for Jones, would answer the phone.
“Amos would say ‘Grab that phone and talk to Mike for a minute,’ ’’ Judge said. “I got to meet him briefly through the phone.’’
An impression was made.
“To be honest with you, I immediately became a Steelers fan,’’ Judge, born and raised outside of Philadelphia, said, “because amongst him and some other people that have been good to me that were good enough to give the opportunity to tag along with them.’’
Judge said he was invited to visit the Steelers in Pittsburgh and there were times when Tomlin “allowed me to be a fly on the wall’’ at the NFL Scouting Combine and “sit there and have dinner on his check.’’
Tomlin downplayed his involvement with Judge’s success.
“I’ve known him for a long time and he’s a sharp guy, he’s got the courage of his convictions and I’m sure he’s committed to being him,’’ Tomlin said.
Judge makes his head coaching debut Monday night against Tomlin’s Steelers and has not forgotten those who helped him get there.
“I’m very appreciative of that,’’ Judge said. “He was always very open for a conversation, very open to share some advice when it came up. I have a lot of respect for him as a person, I have a lot of respect for him as a coach. He’s done tremendous things in his career.’’