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When he walks into their meetings this year, Naaman Roosevelt notices something different about Stephen McAdoo.
There’s still a this-is-what-we’re-going-to-do aspect to the meetings, the Saskatchewan Roughriders’ receiver says of his offensive coordinator. But as the team made its climb to a first-place finish in the West Division, Roosevelt has seen something else in the coach that he’s played for over the last four years.
“What’s funny is, he’s been more jokes this year. We’ve talked about it, how he’s kind of been doing a lot of jokes this year,” Roosevelt said on Friday, at the end of a chilly practice at Mosaic Stadium.
“I would say he’s a lot looser,” said another Riders’ receiver, Jordan Williams-Lambert.
“I think that’s what I mean when I say he’s got a player-friendly playbook, as far as tailoring it toward his players and trying to find a way to (have us) both on the same page.”
McAdoo has reason to exhale a little bit this year. In 2018, his offence ran into every snag imaginable. His starting quarterback, Zach Collaros, was injured. When he came back, the offence wasn’t producing. That group was last in offensive touchdowns and last in passing touchdowns. On the strength of an outstanding defence and strong special teams, the Riders still hosted the Eastern Semi-Final, but couldn’t get past Winnipeg.
It was a successful season — the Riders were 12-6 and finished second in the West — but many saw the writing on the wall for the team when they saw its offensive shortcomings.
Twitter timelines, comment sections on news sites, message boards and radio call-in shows (we remember you, Sheldon) channelled the frustration of a fan base that by the end of the year was begging for touchdowns. Inevitably, when you get past the on-field options, that frustration lands on the O.C.
A year later, there’s a lot less negativity floating around McAdoo, who is now in his sixth-year as a coordinator.
He has a young, star quarterback in Cody Fajardo (his status for Sunday’s Western Final pending). He led the league in passing, with a plethora of talented targets to get the ball to. Shaq Evans led the team in receiving this year with 1,334 yards and five touchdowns. Kyran Moore put up 996 yards this year, with six touchdowns. Roosevelt was right behind him with 946 yards.
Free-agent signee William Powell was second in rushing, with 1,093 yards. Fajardo added 611 more yards on the ground.
The Riders were third in scoring this year (27.1 points per game) and fourth in touchdown passes (50). They’re not the top offence in the league, but 2019 was a substantial improvement for the Riders in the area that they needed it the most.
“I always enjoy it, even when things don’t go the way I want them to go,” McAdoo said.
“I’m still enjoying it because I love what I’m doing and I love the guys that I’m around. Now that things are panning out a little bit differently than they did last year, we’re having a little more success, you know…” he trailed off and laughed a little at the situation.
“I’ve been in this thing a long time. People only remember the bad.”
McAdoo knows how fickle football fandom can be. He played offensive line for four years at Middle Tennessee State University, then spent the 1993 season in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns. He spent two years in the CFL as a player, suiting up in 1994 and 1995 for the Shreveport Pirates.
If there were ever a position in football that could ready you for the ire of fans and pundits, the flip flop of love and hate on a week-to-week basis, it’s the o-line.
“It’s 100 per cent the exact same. Take all the heat, get none of the praise,” said Riders’ o-lineman Thaddeus Coleman, who has spent the last six years playing for McAdoo. His first two were in Edmonton in 2014 and 2015.
“You guys in the media talk about it, ‘Cody, Cody’s the man,’ but it’s the same plays. It’s the same plays all the quarterbacks have used in the past.
“It’s not like it’s nothing new. We haven’t put in a whole new scheme to make Cody successful or anything. It’s the same plays that Mac’s been calling since we’ve been in Edmonton and now we’re here.”
All three players, Coleman, Roosevelt and Williams-Lambert, said that the injury to Collaros last season was a big obstacle to overcome.
“Zach got hurt a few times. He was in and out of the game that kind of messes up the offence,” Coleman said.
“Cody’s been in basically since the first game, so he’s been our constant quarterback and whenever you get a constant quarterback, you give your offence a chance to score points and be successful. And I think that’s what’s happened here.”
You sense a happiness in the players for their coordinator this year, that his hard work was met with the right opportunity this season and the external noise around him finally died down.
“It’s tough when you have the fans and the heckling,” Coleman said.
“But he’s been fighting through. We’ve had a successful year on the offensive side and that’s kudos to him to keep fighting and stay with what he knows.
“He doesn’t let too many people on the outside of the team affect him. And that’s anybody, as long as you don’t let other people affect you and you keep doing what you’re doing it should eventually work, somehow, some way.”