Cody Fajardo might be the Roughriders’ poster boy, but for most of his CFL career the dual-threat quarterback avoided Saskatchewan for one black t-shirt-wearing reason.
“I don’t think I could ever see myself playing for Chris Jones,” Fajardo told Sportscage radio host Derek Taylor on Friday. “So every year Chris Jones was in Sask, I would just cross him off my free agency list and I wouldn’t even try to reach out to the team.”
The Riders reportedly had interest in Fajardo on several occasions, at one point looking into a trade, but the quarterback didn’t think his personality would mesh well with the gruff Jones. In asking around, he felt that the environment Jones created on his teams might not be the best for his long-term success.
“When I asked, a lot of the guys felt like their jobs were never secure. He was always bringing guys in and it didn’t matter what you did, it was, ‘What have you done for me lately?'” Fajardo explained. “You don’t ever want to be in a situation where you think if you have one bad game, you’re done — you don’t ever want to play that tight.”
Now with the Cleveland Browns, Jones joined the Riders in 2016 as the head coach and general manager after winning the Grey Cup with Edmonton. In three seasons at the helm, Jones improved the Riders’ record each year and was the CFL Coach of the Year in 2018.
In the process, the stern-faced coach earned a reputation for making brutal cuts, constantly chasing talent and making questionable, albeit flashy roster moves. In that system, Fajardo doesn’t believe he would have had the success he had last year.
“Probably the greatest boost of confidence I’ve ever gotten was last year at Calgary. I played terrible and Coach Dickie (Craig Dickenson) said, ‘Look, he’s our guy. He had a tough game but we’re not going to play this back and forth game,'” Fajardo recalled.
“That right there helps you settle in and rather than playing to not make a mistake, you are just playing to win some football games. I think that’s what catapulted us and myself personally into playing a lot better.”
On a Jones-led team, Fajardo might not have had the confidence or the opportunity to be named the West Division’s Most Outstanding Player. In his first season as a starter, the Nevada product led the Riders to a 12-4 record, throwing for a league-leading 4,302 yards while completing over 71 percent of his passes with 18 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
The dual-threat pivot used his legs for 611 yards and 10 touchdowns on 107 rushing attempts, averaging 5.7 yards per carry. That only happened because Craig Dickenson was at the helm and a CFL veteran gave him the thumbs up.
“One of the reasons I signed with the Riders is because Travis Lulay gave me the stamp of approval on Coach Dickie and J.O. (GM Jeremy O’Day),” Fajardo said.
“He said these two guys are going to be a match made in heaven and they are going to be perfect people that you want to play for and give it everything you’ve got. As soon as I heard that, I was all in.”
After Fajardo’s comments regarding Jones were picked up by 3DownNation and discussed on The Rod Pedersen Show, Fajardo clarified his view of the 2015 Grey Cup-winning head coach and former face of Saskatchewan’s franchise.
“Chris Jones is an incredible coach that did so many positive things for the CFL,” Fajardo wrote on Twitter. “I personally didn’t feel our personalities would match and that was the only reason I didn’t consider the Riders in free agency.”