‘I think what Cody did was what all leaders need to do’: Marc Trestman praises Riders’ Fajardo for being ‘transparent and vulnerable’ after benching

Photo courtesy: Paul Yates/B.C. Lions

After struggling through the aftermath of being pulled last week, Saskatchewan Roughriders’ quarterback Cody Fajardo had a bounce-back game against the B.C. Lions on Friday night.

The embattled 30-year-old starter had raised eyebrows by openly discussing the negative effects that the benching had on his confidence but responded with 321 yards through the air and two touchdowns in a road victory.

That performance came as no surprise to three-time Grey Cup champion head coach Marc Trestman, who is a fan of the refreshingly honest way Fajardo deals with emotional challenges.

“I think what Cody did was what all leaders need to do, show that they can be transparent and vulnerable,” the legendary coach said on SportsCage radio prior to the Riders’ game, unwittingly foreshadowing the upset win.

“By speaking his mind the way he did and knowing how his locker room believes in him, I would suggest that this could possibly create a rallying point for him and for the team to show that they have his back. That’s how I would interpret it.”

Fajardo has struggled with injuries and confidence issues throughout the 2022 season, with a large section of Rider Nation calling for him to be permanently replaced by backup Mason Fine. Head coach Craig Dickenson stuck with his man after the quarterback’s worst performance of the year and was rewarded by his best.

The Nevada product has become known as the league’s most honest player when it comes to the emotional toll of being a professional athlete, speaking often in the media about the pressures he’s felt as the star of the Riders and the weight that online criticism has placed on him.

For Trestman, who coached Fajardo when he was a backup with the 2017 Toronto Argonauts, those moments of vulnerability aren’t a weakness. It is the type of strength he might highlight in the leadership course he teaches at the University of Miami’s School of Law.

“I know Cody’s going to be highly well-prepared, I know he’s going to be ready to play, so the interpretation is really how you want it. You could look at it as a negative, I prefer to look at it as a positive thing, if I’m understanding the quotes in context,” Trestman said.

“I think that he’s just being open and transparent and I don’t think that’s going to dissuade him from putting in his best. I think it may be beneficial in that he’s asking for help from his teammates to lift him up and I think that’s something that it’s very hard for a leader to do.”

Having worked with a laundry list of elite quarterbacks in both the CFL and NFL, Trestman’s opinion on the subject carries substantial weight. While his assessment of Fajardo proved correct in Week 12, he also offered a coaching tip for the Riders’ face of the franchise going forward.

“I think that what Cody is projecting, it’s a little bit out of the past and expectations of the future and where he’s kind of at looking ahead for the game,” Trestman said.

“I would suggest he become really process-driven, that he start his day with positive thoughts and just continues to focus on each and every aspect and moment of the day to try to get better and try to help his teammates. Create an environment that’s positive during the course of the week in practice and let the results take care of themselves on game day.”

With Saskatchewan sitting in fourth place in the West Division, the emphasis on forcing results clearly hasn’t worked. After turning the corner in Vancouver, perhaps Trestman’s more zen approach will be the route to a home Grey Cup appearance.