Nobody was more surprised than Orlondo Steinauer after the 2018 CFL season.
In December, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats promoted Steinauer from assistant head coach to the top job when incumbent June Jones agreed to become associate head coach and offensive co-ordinator. The move came less than a year after Steinauer returned to the franchise after serving as Fresno State’s defensive co-ordinator during the 2017 NCAA season.
“I didn’t see it coming, I really didn’t,” Steinauer said via telephone during this week’s CFL meetings in Mont-Tremblant, Que. “I was there to support June.
“I knew what I signed up for (in February 2018) whether he was going to stay the head coach for one, two or three more years and I was OK with it. The man June Jones is, it just shows through and I’m encouraged he thinks I can lead this team and he wants to be a part of it. That means a lot to me.”
Steinauer, 45, became a viable head-coaching candidate during his first stint as Hamilton’s defensive co-ordinator (2013-16). But after the ‘16 season, Steinauer joined Jeff Tedford’s staff at Fresno State as defensive co-ordinator, helping transform a program that went 1-11 in 2016 to 10-4 with a Hawaii Bowl win over Houston the following year.
Steinauer’s work didn’t go unnoticed. The Seattle native was nominated for the Frank Broyles Award, given annually to U.S. college football’s top assistant.
But Steinauer left to return to Hamilton, where he won a Grey Cup as a player and made two CFL title game appearances as an assistant coach.
“Fresno State was amazing,” Steinauer said. “I’m extremely grateful to Jeff Tedford for that opportunity and proud to be a part of helping turn that program around.
“We’d bought a house there, there was no plan on coming back any time soon. The contract was extended for me, then this opportunity came up, the chance to learn from June, Jerry (defensive co-ordinator Jerry Glanville) and Frank (special-teams coach Frank Gansz Jr.) — football lifers with so much experience — along with being on the offensive side of the ball.”
Hamilton (8-10) finished second in the East Division last season. After dispatching B.C. 48-8 in the conference semifinal, the Ticats lost 46-27 to Ottawa in the East final.
At season’s end, both B.C. and Toronto asked to speak to Steinauer about their head-coaching vacancies. On Nov. 30, Hamilton announced Steinauer was staying put before naming him head coach three days later.
“I figured I’d be (a head coach) at some point, but I didn’t rush into it,” Steinauer said. “I never rushed to be a defensive co-ordinator and figured when the timing was right, things would fall into place.”
The five-foot-11, 182-pound Steinauer spent 13 seasons as a CFL defensive back, including four years with Hamilton (1997-2000). He played on the Ticats’ last Grey Cup winner in 1999 under late head coach Ron Lancaster.
He served as the Ticats’ defensive co-ordinator in 2013-14 when they made consecutive Grey Cup appearances, After losing 45-23 to Saskatchewan in Regina, Hamilton dropped a heart-breaking 20-16 decision in 2014 to Calgary when Brandon Banks’ 90-yard punt return TD with under a minute left was nullified by penalty.
Steinauer said he couldn’t be happier having his first head-coaching job in Hamilton.
“It’s just understanding those who came before you and what the expectations of the organization are,” he said. “It’s a great honour and an extremely great opportunity.
“I think you can be prepared to be a head coach, but you can’t be prepared for every situation and scenario. You kind of have to jump in with both feet and that’s why I think it’s important to remember what got you there, surround yourself with great people and let it rip.”
Steinauer plans to remain true to his coaching philosophy as Hamilton’s head man.
“Building into people and understanding they’re people first and football players and coaches second,” he said. “Now, they happen to feed their families that way and yes, it’s a job and we’re paid to win. That’s just the reality.
“But at the end of the day, we’re all going home to somebody and I think you can have great communication and accountability. Whatever you stand for as a coach, I don’t think you should waver from those things.”
Steinauer knows his football life has changed. Now, he’ll have make the important decisions rather than provide input.
“There’s always going to be things that come up and you’re going to have to adjust on the fly,” he said. “But I think when you surround yourself with experience, it gives you a better chance to digest some of those things and make the best decision for the situation at hand.”
Steinauer is putting together his own staff. Jones will run the offence and former special-teams coach Jeff Reinebold tweeted recently he’ll return in that capacity this season. Hamilton has reportedly also hired Mark Washington, the former B.C. defensive co-ordinator, to handle its defence.
Hamilton fans have been patient with the Ticats, who’ve finished .500 or better just seven times since their ‘99 championship. Steinauer understands ultimately his future is tied directly to wins and losses.
“There’s pressure in every game, but it’s not a focus of mine,” he said. “I’m going to do what got me this opportunity.
“There’ve been no undefeated teams that I’ve been around so there’s going to be some adversity. It’s more preparation for adversity response and just staying the course so I don’t really feel pressure.”
Steinauer hasn’t been the only family member making headlines. His daughter, Kiana, is enjoying a solid basketball season at Southern Connecticut State University.
The six-foot junior forward is averaging 17.5 points and 16.5 rebounds per game. On Dec. 19, she had 33 points and 31 rebounds in a 96-48 win over Concordia College, the first 30-30 performance in Northeast 10 Conference and Owls history.
Kiana Steinauer is following in her mother’s footsteps. Gina Steinauer was a standout basketball player at Western Washington University and played professionally in Australia.
“I have to give it to my wife because Kiana sure didn’t get her height from me,” Steinauer chuckled. “I screwed that up.
“She’s doing really well but she’s an even better person, which is what we’re most proud of. We’ve also got two other great daughters so I’m blessed to have four great girls in my life.”