Inside story on what led to Giants and no-nonsense Joe Judge firing Marc Colombo — and how it happened

Joe Judge iso with players blurred in background
Joe Judge iso with players blurred in background

When Golden Tate went outside the family to vent his frustrations three weeks ago, Joe Judge wasn’t going to just brush it off. He had long ago laid down the law that the team was the only thing that mattered, and that no one and nothing would get in the way of the path he laid out.

“It has to be team first for everyone in this building,” he explained back then. “Every coach and every player has to be team first. There’s no exceptions for that. I’m not going to tolerate and put up with any kind of selfish behavior from anybody, coach or player. It’s not going to happen.”

Judge wasn’t kidding, and he made that clear last week when he fired offensive line coach Marc Colombo, even as the Giants’ much-maligned unit was finally starting to improve. Judge had a plan to make it even better, by bringing on former Patriots offensive line coach Dave DeGuglielmo to help. Colombo resisted, so now he is gone.

It was a reminder that there is only one way to the future for these Giants: The Joe Judge way.

That’s a good thing too, assuming of course that Judge’s way eventually works. He was the one hired to turn around this floundering franchise, and he sold his new bosses on his vision and plan. The last thing any team — particularly a rebuilding one — needs is a player or coach who isn’t fully on board. It’s a fact that all the best coaches in NFL history have known or learned.

Still, while that’s an easy philosophy to have, putting it into practice is something else. But Judge, all of 38 years old and in his first job as a head coach on any level, hasn’t had a problem with that. If the way he handled Tate’s public outburst hadn’t made that obvious enough, everyone should see it now.

The firing of Colombo occurred last Wednesday morning, following an ugly, verbal altercation between Judge and Colombo on Tuesday night, according to multiple sources. The two coaches argued after Judge announced his decision to hire DeGuglielmo, and the clash was so heated and so personal — with Colombo using one particularly nasty word to describe Judge — one witness feared they would actually get into a physical fight.

They calmed down, though, and a decision was made that they’d avoid any big, rash decisions until the next morning. But when Colombo reported for work that day and entered the team offices, he was told by team security and a rep from the human resources department that he was fired. A source said that Judge made that decision to fire Colombo on Tuesday night, but Judge’s bosses made the decision to not have the head coach tell Colombo in person to make sure there was no chance of another fight.

And to some, it wasn’t all that big of a surprise because this all had actually been building for a while, according to multiple sources familiar with the situation. Colombo, a well-respected line coach, had no ties to Judge before he was hired. He was brought in at the urging of offensive coordinator Jason Garrett who worked with Colombo in Dallas. Judge had initially been interested in DeGuglielmo, whom he had worked with in New England. But apparently he decided he wanted his new offensive coordinator to have his guy.

The Giants’ young offensive line struggled early, though, and there was particular concern with the development of left tackle Andrew Thomas, the Giants’ first-round pick. In late October, after seeing Thomas in person, Paul Alexander, a former NFL offensive line coach who trained Thomas before the draft, told SNY that his former student had all but abandoned the techniques that had made him so successful at Georgia.

“My question is: ‘Why are you doing different things than you did?'” Alexander told SNY. “I mean, he was the best tackle in the country. And right now it’s like, ‘Oh my God!'”

Alexander — who worked with Garrett in Dallas in 2018, but was fired midseason and replaced by Colombo — was careful not to blame Colombo for the technical issues in his interview with SNY, but others quietly did. At about the same time, according to a team source, Judge decided to become more hands-on with the offensive line, spending an unusual amount of time with them during individual drills. His hope, the source said, was to give a different perspective on what was being taught, to help Colombo fix some of the issues.

But that apparently didn’t sit well with Colombo, who appeared to bristle at Judge’s interference, according to sources. There was an incident a few weeks ago when Judge stopped the offensive line drills to correct the technique that center Nick Gates was using. Colombo snapped, according to a source, and told Gates to continue doing the way Colombo taught him. The two had similar disagreements over the technique being used by Thomas, a source said, though it’s unclear whether that bubbled over in front of any players.

The two coaches also clashed over how to deploy the Giants’ line, another source said. Judge wanted to use a heavy rotation, which he’d seen work in New England. Colombo believed in leaving the same five guys on the field to build continuity. Judge won that battle, of course, since the Giants have been rotating their lineman consistently for several weeks.

That’s all part of why Judge decided to bring in DeGuglielmo as what one source described as an “offensive consultant,” despite the improvement along the line. He would have more responsibilities than just one unit, but clearly the line was his area of expertise since he’s only been an offensive line coach during his career. The hope, one source said, was that DeGuglielmo, who has 16 years of experience as an NFL assistant, could help guide Colombo, who is in only his fifth year as an NFL coach, particularly with teaching techniques.

Colombo resisted, which led to the nasty confrontation last Tuesday night. Judge could clearly see there were “philosophical differences,” as one source put it, and that Colombo wanted no part of working with a de facto assistant. Still, one source said Judge might have tried to make it work if it hadn’t been for Colombo’s over-the-top reaction.

Maybe Judge could have found a compromise, but why? This is his team, his plan, his responsibility. It was the same with Tate. He could’ve fined him and made him promise not to vent to the cameras, as he did, or like critical posts on social media to make a public point about his unhappiness, and saved him from the spotlight of a de facto suspension. But he needed to make a point that he won’t tolerate distractions.

That point should be crystal clear to everyone now.

And it’s not that Judge is a soulless dictator either. He talks to his players and coaches, and by all accounts listens to them, and incorporates their suggestions when he feels he should. But like any good leader, when he makes a decision, that’s that. And he won’t tolerate any insubordination or “selfish behavior.” It doesn’t matter if it’s not in public, either. Judge could’ve easily hired DeGuglielmo as a consultant and maybe no one would’ve ever known of Colombo’s objections.

But once Colombo made it clear he wasn’t on board with Judge’s decision, he was just somebody else in his way.

And that’s unacceptable to Judge, because there is only one way for the Giants. Judge will lead, and everyone else better follow or get left behind. That’s what the Giants want. It’s what they once had in Bill Parcells and again in Tom Coughlin. And now in Judge, they believe — perhaps more than ever — that they have a coach who is leading them the right way again.

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