August 27, 2019

Morris: Steinauer still ‘learning daily’ in first year as head coach

No matter what team he’s worked for, or what position he coached, Orlondo Steinauer has kept a file.

Collected over the years the file includes a list of best practices which extends past which plays worked in certain situations. Steinauer has also noted how different people he worked with handled wins and losses, accumulated ideas on travel schedules and whether teams use dress codes, even jotted down some quotes.

“For me, I was decent about writing things down, gathering all experiences, not just wins and losses,” said the Hamilton Tiger-Cats’ head coach. “Just lots of details that don’t show up in a three-hour game.

“I still add to it. There is a lot of great ways to do things. We’re all a product of where we’ve been and the things we went through. I’m learning daily.”

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Just 10 games into Steinauer’s first season as a head coach, Hamilton leads the CFL’s East Division with an 8-2 record. The Tiger-Cats’ 13-10 win over the BC Lions Saturday night was their third consecutive victory and fifth in the last sixth games.

His responsibilities may have changed since being named Hamilton’s 26th head coach in December, but Steinauer says he’s the same person.

“I didn’t really come in with any expectations except for to be authentic and to be myself, to do what got me the opportunity to be in this position,” he said. “I didn’t come in saying ‘OK, I’m head coach, this is what I think it’s going to be.’ You talk to the people that have been there and you surround yourself with great people first of all. Then you worry about the Xs and Os.

“Has it been what I thought? It is what it is. I’m just being me and getting the players to play at a high level. I was really demanding of the coaches in the beginning to set the expectations of what we expected both on and off the field, in the games and in practice, and then let the players set the standard.”

Having a file for reference has helped Steinauer cope with different situations. But nothing prepares a coach for losing starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli for the season with a torn ACL and running back Sean Thomas Erlington with a knee injury.

“There is definitely no way of doing that,” said Steinauer. “That’s called adversity. We like to think we prepare our men for advisory responses and those sort of things.

“You have to go through it. I’m surrounded by great men and coaches that have coached a lot longer than I have. I’m able to lean on them a little bit also.”

Like most people in his position, Steinauer worked his way up the coaching ladder. After a 13-year playing career, he started as a defensive backs coach with the Toronto Argonauts in 2010.  In 2013, he joined Hamilton as defensive coordinator.

He spent 2017 as the defensive coordinator with the Fresno State Bulldogs, then returned to Hamilton in 2018 as assistant head coach to June Jones.

“I never set out to be where I am in this position today,” said the 46-year-old Seattle native. “It was just being all in with what I was given as the defensive backs coach, then being all in as the defensive coordinator. When you do well… it attracts head coaching talk, so everybody all seemed to know before me.

“All those experiences prepare you if you let them.”

Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer hugs receiver Brandon Banks on the sideline (Shannon Vizniowski/

Many football players say they don’t necessarily need to like their coach, but they must respect him. Steinauer is one of those people who is both liked and respected.

Veteran linebacker Simoni Lawrence joined Hamilton in 2013 and watched Steinauer deal with both good and bad times.

“He’s a leader,” said Lawrence. “He hasn’t wavered one bit and that’s why I appreciate him and love him so much. He’s just one of those guys where he’s always the same.

“He’s one of those coaches that players want to run through a wall for.”

There are coaches who have sound football minds but can be rude, abrasive or even petty. Not Steinauer.

“You can feel the honesty in him,” said Lawrence. “When you play professional football… you kind of know the bullshit from the not bullshit.

“He’s a straight shooter. He’s honest, he takes care of us, sticks up for us. It works all around.”

Steinauer played his college football at Western Washington University where he would later be named to the school’s All-Century team. During his CFL career, he played for Ottawa, Hamilton and Toronto. He won two Grey Cup and was a CFL All-Star five times. He also earned all-star recognition as a cornerback, halfback and safety.

Having spent so many years as a player and position coach, Steinauer knew some of the challenges that head coaches face, but there’s still been a learning curve.

“I would say most of that is not football related, to be honest with you,” he said. “I’m not saying I’m prepared for every football situation but I’m more prepared for those than maybe some issues off the field.

“Someone has to miss a practice, a person is misdiagnosed by the therapy room, things a person is saying in the media. Those are the things you are dealing with as a coach you didn’t necessarily have to deal with as a coordinator. Some of that is new and unique.”

“He’s a leader. He hasn’t wavered one bit and that’s why I appreciate him and love him so much. He’s just one of those guys where he’s always the same. He’s one of those coaches that players want to run through a wall for.”

– Simoni Lawrence

Steinauer believes in letting his coaches do their jobs.

“I don’t look as myself as a micro-manger,” he said. “Do I expect things done a certain way most of the time? Absolutely. I like to tell them the expectation and the vision and let them be creative in how they go about it.

“If there is something I still don’t like, then we visit about it. That’s rare. I can’t even recall a handful of times it’s happened. I think if your expectations are clear, and you have the right men, the results usually show up.”

As much as Steinauer relishes being a coach, it’s the people he works with that makes the job special.

“I’m enjoying it, mainly because the people are great I’m working with,” he said. “When you surround yourself with great people, coming to work is fun.

“Coaching is what I do, it’s not who I am. When I push the gas hard to come to work it’s because I get a chance to be around great people and impact lives.”