Orlondo Steinauer is no stranger to the Grey Cup.
Steinauer played in the Canadian Football League’s equivalent of the Super Bowl three times, winning it in 1999 with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and 2004 with the Toronto Argonauts. From 2012-14 he was on the sideline for three straight Grey Cups as an assistant coach, winning in 2012 with Toronto and losing in 2013 and 2014 with Hamilton.
But this time was different. This time Steinauer was the man in charge.
The Lynnwood High School graduate and recent inductee into the Snohomish County Sports Hall of Fame is now Hamilton’s head coach, meaning he was the one calling the shots when the Tiger-Cats faced the Winnipeg Blue Bombers for the CFL championship on Nov. 24. And although the Grey Cup ended in disappointment for Steinauer and the TiCats, it was still one heck of a way to cap off Steinauer’s first season as a head coach.
“No doubt I’m still disappointed we weren’t able to seize on an opportunity of what was a great regular season and playoff,” the 46-year-old Steinauer said from Hamilton, Ontario, where he’s already began preparations for the 2020 season, starting with finalizing his staff. “But there’s so much to be proud of.”
Steinauer has carved himself quite the career in the CFL, where the field is bigger, teams play 12-a-side, there are just three downs, and the goalposts are an obstacle in the end zones. After starring at Western Washington University — he was named to the school’s All-Century Team as a cornerback and punt returner — he spent 13 seasons in the CFL from 1996-2008, being named a CFL All-Star six times. He was hired as an a defensive backs coach with Toronto in 2010, moved to Hamilton in 2013, was eventually elevated to assistant head coach, and became one of the most sought-after head coaching candidates in Canadian football. Indeed, then-Hamilton head coach June Jones stepped aside during the past offseason to allow Steinauer to take over — and to stave off interest from Toronto and B.C.
The move proved prescient by the TiCats. Hamilton went 8-10 under Jones in 2018. This season the TiCats racked up the league’s best record during the regular season at 15-3, leading the CFL in both scoring offense (30.6 points per game) and scoring defense (19.1). Steinauer took home the CFL Coach of the Year award, and his 15 victories were the most ever by a rookie head coach.
“You have to have talent, you have to be lucky, and you have to have a quarterback who’s pretty good,” Steinauer said about Hamilton’s success this season. “Was I surprised we went 15-3? No, because you expect to win every week, even though the reality says that’s not likely going to happen. It’s a testament to how hard the staff and players and everyone in the organization worked for this. This is not a ‘me’ thing. Yes, I was able to get Coach of the Year, but I accepted it on behalf of the entire Hamilton Tiger-Cats organization, not on behalf of myself.”
While Steinauer knows all about the Grey Cup, it was a different experience as a head coach.
“I’d say that on the sideline it was no different from any other game,” Steinauer said. “But I’d say the week leading up, you knew it wasn’t just any other game. That’s where it hit me that it was different as a head coach, all the extra media and obligations you have to deal with.”
Unfortunately for Steinauer and the TiCats they ended up on the losing side of a 33-12 scoreline.
“We didn’t play like champions on that day, unfortunately,” Steinauer said. “That was a jagged pill to swallow. But there’s only one happy team at the end of the season no matter what sport you play.”
Steinauer has now spent plenty of time in the CFL, both as a player and a coach. He’s spent time in the NCAA, serving as Fresno State’s defensive coordinator in 2017 as the Bulldogs produced a stunning turnaround from going 1-11 in 2016 to going 10-4 in Steinauer’s lone season at the school. But what about the NFL? Steinauer had brief trials in the NFL as a player, spending brief moments with the Detroit Lions straight out of college and with the Miami Dolphins in 2000, without sticking on either occasion.
Could Steinauer make the jump as a coach? The list of coaches going from the CFL to the NFL is short, but not empty. A generation ago, Bud Grant went from coaching Winnipeg to four Grey Cups to taking over the Minnesota Vikings and reaching four Super Bowls. Marv Levy won two Grey Cups with the Montreal Alouettes before being hired by the Kansas City Chiefs, then reaching four Super Bowls of his own with the Buffalo Bills. More recently, Mark Trestman went straight from Montreal to the Chicago Bears in 2013 and lasted two years, while Saskatchewan Roughriders head coach Chris Jones was hired by the Cleveland Browns as a senior defensive assistant this past offseason.
“I got a sniff of what (the NFL) was like,” Steinauer said. “Was I able to make a career of it down there? Absolutely not. As far as coaching, I had an interview for a defensive backs job with Miami a while back. But I’ve been grateful, and I’ve worked my tail off to be where I’m at now. I was able to play 12 years, largely because I was able to stay relatively healthy, but I kept to the grind wherever I was at and didn’t worry about other opportunities. If I’m supposed to go to the NFL and be able to be a head coach, that will present itself. But I’m going to work hard and do the best I can and let everything else take care of itself.”