Here’s how the Giants’ Tucson getaway went, behind the scenes at the University of Arizona

TUCSON, Arizona – Joe Judge wore a University of Arizona hat and sweatshirt in practice Friday, a hat trick to the school that hosted the Giants this week on a unique road trip between two games. It was at the end of a long process that began in June when Giants vice president of team operations Jim Phelan called Arizona staff to bring up the subject of the shutdown at Tucson between games in Miami and Los Angeles.

Other cities were considered, but the Giants – led by Joe Judge, who had the idea in the first place – eventually settled on Tucson. The judge’s main motivation: He wanted the Giants to stay in a warm climate coming from the Dolphins game in Miami, rather than returning to New Jersey in the middle of an increasingly cold winter.

The Wildcats were happy to welcome them.

“We thought it would be a win for both teams,” said Brian DeSpain, Arizona director of football operations.

There aren’t many obvious connections between the two programs, although Judge and Arizona coach Jedd Fisch both worked for Bill Belichick with the New England Patriots, albeit at different times. Giants running back Gary Brightwell also played in Arizona from 2017-20, as did assistant special teams coach Tom Quinn, who graduated in 1991.

The first conversations were mainly about logistics. The Giants needed a facility, training ground and locker room layout that could accommodate their squad of more than 70 players, including the roster of 53, the practice squad of 17. players and two injured reserve players who traveled with them. One was linebacker Blake Martinez, originally from Tucson. The other is cornerback Darnay Holmes, who is returning home to Los Angeles for the Chargers game this weekend. The Giants also have a strong coaching and operations team. And many members of the front office (including CEO Dave Gettleman) made the trip.

Arizona has a state-of-the-art $ 72 million facility built on top of its stadium in 2013 and a $ 16.5 million indoor training facility built a few years ago.

“They wanted locker rooms, they wanted a weight room and they wanted meeting space,” DeSpain said. “Based on our setup here, we were able to adapt to all of this without affecting what our players and staff needed to do. “

DeSpain remained in conversation throughout the fall as the Giants worked out the details of how the operation would look in Tucson. There were discussions about where each coach would work, the workout schedules, the weight room schedules and the Giants nutritionist worked with the university to make sure everything was set up according to the needs. meal. DeSpain and his team also worked with the university police department to secure escorts back and forth to their hotel.

Most of the University of Arizona coaches were in the process of recruiting, which allowed the Giants to take over pretty much the entire facility without too much trouble. The Giants set up their own servers and worked with the college’s IT department to set up all of their “movies and meeting rooms,” DeSpain said, “so really over the last couple of months, there’s been a lot of work and coordination and get the logistics completed.

There were still staff on site, including younger coaches (AGs) and support staff, which allowed them to interact with the judge and his coaches in the building.

“We’re doing a good job of really working together on sharing photocopiers, snacks and coffee machines,” Judge said.

DeSpain and the Arizona coaching staff also urged their players to go to practice. The Giants trained on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday – and by the end of the week a legion of fans were waiting for them, asking for photos and autographs. The judge also let a few young children watch practice each day.

“Anytime you can learn how the top level works, what they look like, how they run their business, that’s something we’re trying to educate (the Arizona players),” DeSpain said. “What the guys in the NFL look like, how they take care of their bodies, how they approach meetings, how they approach training, how they approach recovery in the training room. So I think that was a good way to hammer home all the things that we educate them on throughout the year.

The Giants stayed at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa, which is in the beautiful Catalina Foothills, about a 20-minute drive from campus. Each player and coach had their own room, which was especially important once two members of the organization – QB coach Jerry Schuplinski and goalie Wes Martin – tested positive for COVID-19 when they arrived in Arizona. .

Schuplinski and Martin have both been forced to quarantine themselves in their rooms for the entire week and will not be traveling with the team to Los Angeles unless they test negative twice in a 24-hour period. The Giants therefore strive to obtain both means of transportation to New Jersey (either by private plane or by car) instead of joining them in California.

The two have always been in virtual meetings, and Schuplinski was watching practice via Zoom this week, with a Giants staff member standing on a ladder and holding an iPad so Schuplinski could see what was going on.

The rest of the team were able to spend time bonding in the team compound when they were not at the site for training. Some players played golf at the course attached to the resort, although the judge admitted that for a few days he was not even aware there was a golf course there since his room did not face it.

Martinez has taken some of his teammates to eat on a number of occasions, including at a popular Mexican restaurant in the area and at a family-owned pizzeria just off campus. When the players traveled by bus to the restaurant, called No Anchovies, a handful of players got off their shuttle and entered the wrong restaurant next door, a place called Illegal Pete’s. The bartender sent them in the right direction. Some of the Giants ‘defensive players made it to a University of Arizona basketball game at the McKale Center on Wednesday, including Logan Ryan, Xavier McKinney, Adoree’ Jackson and others.

Brightwell said his teammates bombarded him with questions about where to eat, and especially where to get a haircut. He recommended his former barber, named Glen.

“It’s like my second home, so just being back, feeling the air coming from that cold air, it’s good,” Brightwell said.

Many players were confused when told they would spend a week in Tucson between the Dolphins and Chargers game – although it has increased for some of them.

“I was a little upset that we were going out here on the schedule early on, but now being here is a good reminder and a little change of pace,” said defensive lineman Leonard Williams, who has played in Tucson a few times. when he was in the Pac-12 at USC. “I thought it was weird that we had to leave the house, stay in the hotel all week, stuff like that. But it was actually a good one; it’s refreshing to break that daily routine.

Security said Logan Ryan: “I think it was good to walk away, reset our minds a bit.”

At the end of Friday’s practice, the judge let Brightwell and Quinn break up the group. The team left Tucson on Saturday afternoon for their way to Los Angeles, at the end of a weeklong jaunt that lasted for months.

“It’s a really good situation,” DeSpain said. “Really starting with Coach Fisch, we were given the directive to be really hospitable and try to make it work for them. They were incredibly respectful and cooperative and it worked really well for both of them. parties. “

The judge said Arizona was “very hospitable”.

“A lot of places don’t entertain that,” the judge said. “They couldn’t have been more welcoming.

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Zack Rosenblatt can be reached at [email protected].

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