Orlondo Steinauer’s departure from the Hamilton Tiger-Cats is hardly surprising and yet it came as a shock, even to him.
The 43-year-old was hired as the defensive coordinator of Fresno State, a NCAA Division 1 FBS school based in California on Wednesday after four seasons in the same role with the Ticats. It was a whirlwind courtship that started when newly-hired Bulldogs head coach Jeff Tedford – a former B.C. Lions head coach and Ticat quarterback – asked for permission to speak to Steinauer a few weeks ago.
“It came out of the blue. Our body of work is pretty good but it just doesn’t happen like this,” Steinauer said. “I see this as a different challenge. There are nine opportunities up in here while there are unlimited opportunities in the United States.”
Steinauer’s name has come up for virtually every CFL head coaching vacancy the last three seasons and with vice president of football operations and head coach Kent Austin entrenched in Hamilton – he signed a four-year contract extension before last season – Steinauer’s departure has felt inevitable. But to get a call from a Tedford, a man who knew him strictly by reputation, is a testament to how hot a commodity Steinauer had become.
“I’d like to think I earned this opportunity,” Steinauer said. “This wasn’t a connection where I’ve known Jeff for ten years and we’re on each other’s Christmas card list.”
A changing-of-the-guard among CFL head coaches also left Steinauer in something of a quandary. Between his 13-year playing career and time in the coaching ranks, Steinauer has personal a relationship with a number of his contemporaries, making his status as a head coach-in-waiting somewhat awkward.
“I consider Dave Dickenson a good friend. Same with Scott Milanovich and Jason Maas. Wally Buono has been a great mentor to me,” Steinauer said. “In order for me to get an opportunity, they have to fail and that’s kind of a weird feeling for me personally.”
Instead, he’ll join the ranks of the colossus known as American college football with 128 teams in the FBS tier alone. Fresno State isn’t quite in the same class as monster programs like Alabama, Ohio State and Michigan – the Crimson Tide’s Nick Saban makes $7 million a year – but it’s certainly a well-known, well-respected program.
In addition to virtually infinite college and pro coaching possibilities, Steinauer will make more money than he did in Hamilton, get paid in American dollars and enjoy the security of a pension – something CFL coaches aren’t afforded.
Still, Steinauer says he would have happily returned to the Ticats next season: he’d quietly signed an extension that would have seen him return as defensive coordinator had a CFL head coaching job of an opportunity of this magnitude failed to materialize.
“I don’t want Hamilton to think I’m choosing Fresno over anything,” Steinauer said. “I would have been excited about coming back here in 2017.”
Experience at an elite NCAA school will only enhance his resume when a CFL vacancy inevitably opens up. Steinauer and his family will ultimately move to California to become a part of the community there but they plan to keep their Ontario home
“I’m not closing the door on anything,” Steinauer said. “Canada has given us every opportunity so we’re extremely grateful.”