Every coach talks about the character of his players and, more importantly, the culture of his locker room, and Joe Judge has been no exception. Actually, what the new Giants coach said he wants to build is a "winning culture." Pro sports teams want the best players, not necessarily the best men.
Still, there are moments when the player intersects with the man and the results are frightening for everyone. When that happens, it can put the most well-intentioned coach to the test. Such was the case on Thursday night with Giants cornerback DeAndre Baker, when news broke that a warrant had been issued for his arrest in Miramar, Fla., for four counts of armed robbery and four counts of aggravated assault with a firearm. He and Seahawks cornerback Quinton Dunbar allegedly robbed four people of thousands of dollars in cash and expensive watches.
Perhaps most damning, the warrant said witnesses heard the 22-year-old Baker tell a third assailant - an unidentified man wearing a red mask - to shoot the victims.
Thankfully, it appears he did not.
That is horrible on a human level, of course, especially if Baker cavalierly tried to order the death of other human beings. If Baker is guilty, he deserves what he gets - which could be a lengthy prison sentence. Even if he finds a way to avoid that, though, the troubling details of the warrant open him up to the possibility of a suspension under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy.
There are multiple witnesses to his alleged crimes, including a man nicknamed "Coach" who apparently has known Baker since he was a child, according to the warrant. And the NFL's policy makes it clear they don't need a guilty verdict to hit a player with a suspension.
But put all those consequences aside for a moment, and this is still a huge test for Judge, a 38-year-old rookie head coach. Baker, the 30th overall pick of the 2019 draft - a player the Giants traded back into the first round to get - came out of Georgia with whispers of character concerns, but the Giants gave him the benefit of the doubt. Then last year, reports surfaced that his work ethic was somewhat lacking. Several players said Baker's attitude and his constant unpreparedness had rubbed veterans in the locker room the wrong way. The Giants gave him the benefit of the doubt then, too, because of his talent.
We don't know what Judge thinks of Baker - the man or the player - or what he thought of him before this incident. But this is essentially his first impression: At a time when responsible adults are adhering to state lockdown rules due to the COVID-19 pandemic and avoiding large gatherings, Baker allegedly ignored those warnings and went to parties and poker games. And he allegedly went to those parties carrying a semi-automatic weapon. And he pulled that weapon on four different people, according to witnesses, so he could rob them. And he allegedly ordered victims to be shot.
If all that is true -- if any of that is true -- how does Judge stand in front of his team and explain he's welcoming Baker back, that he believes he's a team player, the kind of guy his teammates can trust? How can he implore them to do the right thing, to work hard, to stay out of trouble and represent the Giants well, while embracing a player who allegedly did none of that at all?
And don't think for a second that the rest of the Giants players won't be watching for Judge's reaction. Whatever he does next will tell them a lot about their new head coach.
It's a tough spot, though. The Giants aren't likely to cut a 22-year-old with first-round talent whom they were counting on to be their starting corner this season. Let's face it: They've tolerated worse crimes over the years. Every organization in sports has. Winning almost always comes first.
They will let the legal system play out. They will let the NFL handle the suspension. They will do their best not to discuss anything publicly. They'll close ranks and talk about handling things "internally" and "in house." That's the playbook for these things, and it almost always works, as long as there's no video that accompanies the crime. And as long as the team wins.
But what Judge does next, what he says next - publicly and privately - still matters. Maybe "winning culture" isn't the same as "culture" in general. Even fans know they don't necessarily care if their team is filled with choir boys or criminals, as long as they make the playoffs. But if the new coach doesn't handle this right and walk this tightrope successfully, no one - players, fans or media -- will ever take him seriously when he talks about "character" and "culture" again.