They — in the ‘most people’ sense of the word — said he was an “unorthodox hire,” but a year later they’re saying: “Who needs orthodox?”
Orlondo Steinauer and the rest of the second-year Fresno State Bulldogs’ football coaching staff have become one of the most important assets on the central California campus.
The school athletic director has budgeted for a 10th coaching position, says the team is now driving the rest of Fresno State’s sports programs, and wants to increase the salary pool for assistant coaches and co-ordinators, which, of course, includes the former Hamilton Tiger-Cat player and defensive co-ordinator.
And a year after going 1-11, the 2017 Bulldogs finished 10-4 to become just the second FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision) team ever to go from double-digit losses to double-digit wins in a single season. The Dogs also won their first Bowl Game in a decade, taking the high octane Houston Cougars 33-27 in the Hawaii Bowl.
“It worked out well for everybody,” understates the understated Steinauer. “The record, the Bowl game. So much went into it. People always talk about changing the culture of a team and those kinds of things, but that’s really what the difference was this year.
“Not just on the field. It was the attitude toward conditioning, in the weight room, during spring ball, toward academics … everything. It’s not just football culture, it’s character culture.”
Steinauer’s thematic, and sometimes-complicated, defensive systems always require a comprehensive buy-in from the rest of the defensive coaching staff, who in turn sell it to their position players. And he says, just like when he was in Hamilton, that progression went smoothly in Fresno. And it was put to its litmus test early.
After a blowout win in the new coaching staff’s first game, Fresno State encountered two weeks of reality checks with road losses in Weeks 2 and 3 to eventual national champion Alabama (41-10) and then-sixth-ranked Washington (48-16).
“We were battle-tested after that,” Steinauer told The Spectator recently. “No one we were going to play was going to be any tougher.
“But it was a trying time. We took over a program this year and were trying to sell our program. And you want results to show that it’s working … so you wondered, after those losses.
“But the guys bought in. They were just tired of all the losing, especially the seniors.”
And they didn’t lose much after that, going 9-2 the rest of the way and finishing first in the Mountain West Conference’s western division, before being edged 17-14 in the league championship at Boise State against whom they’d beaten, just a week earlier, by 11 points at home.
Tedford, a former Fresno State quarterback, was chosen the Mountain West coach of the year.
Steinauer made a number of changes on defence, including shifting some returnees to different positions and changing Fresno State’s basic 4-3 formation to 3-4, to better combat the run. A defence that allowed 4.95 yards per carry in 2016 was down to 3.43 in 2017, and bullied opposition offences into 137 fewer total running plays.
“It’s a product of hard work and scheme,” junior linebacker George Helmuth told the Fresno Bee newspaper. “Before the coaches got here we had a real bad problem of not running to the football. Through spring, summer and fall camp that was a huge emphasis.”Now we’re just absorbing what Coach O and the other coaches are teaching us and taking that onto the field. That’s what people see.”
Even with the 89 racked up by Washington and Alabama, the Bulldogs’ defence finished 11th in the nation in points allowed. And of 1,500 eligible coaches Steinauer was one of the 56 who made the long list for the Broyles Award, emblematic of the top assistant coach or co-ordinator in NCAA football.
Steinauer says he pays fairly close attention to the CFL, “and always will.”
“I love that league. I followed the Tiger-Cats. … And from a distance it was not good. I didn’t call anybody there, but some called me.
“I’m happy they turned it around in the second half. Good for Jeremiah (Masoli). And I love Zach (Collaros). That goes back to Toronto. It was probably time for a change for him, and I think it’ll be good for him. He’s going to Steve McAdoo’s offensive system, and he was on the coaching staff in Toronto.”
It wouldn’t come as a surprise if, just for the mental exercise, Steinauer has already designed a defensive plan to stop them.
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