Jason Garrett was aware of Patrick Graham “from afar’’ but did not know him, despite their shared experience in the NFL for more than a decade. Joe Judge brought these two together as two of his top lieutenants on his first Giants coaching staff, and the professional relationship has taken off.
“He’s been a real joy to work with right now, despite the fact he is a Yale guy,’’ Garrett said Tuesday.
There it is. Garrett is one of the few coordinators in the league interested in taking a playful shot at a Yalie. Not that Graham felt disrespected in the least.
“Proud to be a member of that fraternity, if you want to think of it that way,’’ Graham said.
It is quite a select fraternity.
There are three offensive or defensive coordinators currently working in the NFL from the Ivy League, and the Giants employ two of them. Garrett, from Princeton, is entrusted with the offense after the previous 10 years as the Cowboys head coach. Graham, who worked with Judge on Bill Belichick’s Patriots staff, has the defense. The other Ivy League coordinator in the league is Bill Lazor (Cornell, 1994), in his first year running the Bears offense.
Judge has great familiarity with Graham and high-quality individuals such as Garrett, especially with such extensive résumés, do not come available too often.
There are not many coincidences inherent in Judge’s decision-making, and thus it is telling how he prioritized the teaching component he wants from his coordinators when announcing their hirings back in late January.
“We’re setting out to develop a smart, tough and really sound football team, and that’s going to start with the coordinators setting the tone in each room,” Judge said.
That “smart’’ came first is revealing, though hardly surprising. In his introductory press conference, Judge stated, “I think the biggest thing you look for on the field is smart players who can execute the assignment, who can play situationally aware.’’
Graham, 41, was a defensive lineman at Yale, graduating in 2002 with a degree in sociology with a concentration in economics and African-American studies.
Garrett, 54, was named the Ivy League Player of the Year at Princeton in 1988 and graduated in 1989 with a degree in history. His 105-page senior thesis was entitled, “The Revolt of the Black Athlete as Initiated by Harry Edwards.’’
It is essential these two work together, especially now, during training camp — when installations are a daily component to practice, and one side of the ball must compete without totally dominating the other side.
“In the time we’ve been together I have a tremendous amount of respect for [Graham] and how smart a football guy he is,’’ Garrett said.
There it is again. Smart.
“We’ve talked about it before, briefly, nothing big,’’ Graham said of the shared Ivy league résumé with Garrett. “I wasn’t a good player. He was a good player, so it’s a totally different situation. He was actually playing in the games. I was really just sitting there on the sideline making sure to keep the bench warm.’’
Garrett inherits second-year quarterback Daniel Jones, a willing student, and enough firepower, as long as this latest offensive line rebuild works out better than the previous attempts.
“There’s different levels of book smarts the players I’ve been around throughout my career had,’’ Garrett said. “But you have to dig into it, you have to know what we’re asking you to do, and then you have to be smart when you get into the different situations in the game.’’
Graham has at his disposal a young, intriguing defensive line, largely unproven pass rushers and a defensive backfield that could be strong at safety and lacking at cornerback.
“You want guys who have some good football awareness and instincts,’’ Graham said. “I guess that factors into the smart part. I could care less about what it is off the field, not in a bad way, but on the field are they able to figure out what the offense is doing, can they process multiple things we might give them on a given play.’’
Thomas McGaughey, retained as the special teams coordinator, played at Houston and smiled when asked what vibes the two Ivy Leaguers give off.
“Jason and PG are very, very sharp men,’’ McGaughey said. “When you’re around them, you get that. When you have conversations with them, you get that. Yes, the Ivy League education has definitely jumped off the screen to me.’’