Why Orlondo Steinauer is returning to the Ticats (we think)

Orlondo Steinauer is returning to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and that’s good news – even if it doesn’t make complete sense.

Steinauer, a former Ticat player who won a championship with the team in 1999, was the defensive coordinator for four seasons under head coach Kent Austin starting in 2013, an integral part of the coaching staff that led the club to two straight Grey Cup appearances. He is universally respected around the CFL and was thought to be a leading candidate for a head coaching job in the not-too-distant future.

Then last December, with his Ticats’ contract expiring, Steinauer took a job as the defensive coordinator at Fresno State under Jeff Tedford, former head coach of the B.C. Lions. The thought was that Steinauer had essentially jumped career tracks, eschewing the CFL for American college football.

That made sense, given his age (44), his American roots (born in Seattle) and that U.S. college coaches make quite a bit of money, particularly at the highest levels (think millions). After Fresno State had an excellent first season under Tedford and Steinauer, going 10-4 and playing in a bowl game, it looked like he was well on his way.

So what’s changed? Well, Steinauer wasn’t available on Thursday due to travel issues but there are some hints.

In the release from the club, Steinauer alluded to the fact that his family – he has three daughters, two of whom are still living at home – has spent “the vast majority of our lives in Southern Ontario” and that the move “aligned with my personal and professional priorities.”

Living in Canada again may have been appealing, especially given that his kids were born and raised in Oakville. Professionally… well, so much of that will depend on what happens next but it raises some interesting questions.

Steinauer’s title is officially “assistant head coach,” a designation that, most notably, does not include his former title as defensive coordinator. The Ticats haven’t announced their staff but there are persistent rumours that the role will be filled by Jerry Glanville, a confidant of head coach June Jones dating back to their NFL days. Glanville is 76, however, with no previous CFL experience and Steinauer could be vital in filling in the gaps.

But Jones is also 65-years-old and though he said when he signed his contract extension in December that it included a three-year term, one gets the sense that both he and the Ticats see this as a year-to-year thing. Grooming Steinauer, with whom he does not have a previous coaching relationship, as a successor may have just become part of the deal.

Both Jones and Steinauer would have to be comfortable with the arrangement and the Cats would be crazy to do it otherwise. Jones has played mentor before – ask Jeff Reinebold – and Steinauer will get a Masters class in offensive football from one of the game’s pioneers.

There were already a lot of cooks in the Ticats’ kitchen: Austin as vice-president of football operations, general manager Eric Tillman, a head coach with considerable clout in Jones and, as always, president Scott Mitchell – who almost certainly played a role in Thursday’s move. Where, exactly, Steinauer fits in all of this remains to be seen but the players don’t seem to care: several Ticats’ social media feeds were downright giddy after the announcement.

While there’s still some unanswered questions about Steinauer’s motivations, role and future, this much is for sure: it’s hard to go wrong adding a young, supremely-talented coach who is beloved by the players. And the Ticats have done just that.