‘Don’t let the smile fool you’: Orlondo Steinauer and Mike O’Shea’s brotherhood endures through competition

Photo courtesy: Kevin Sousa/CFL

They say the mark of a true hall of famer is when you can’t tell the story of the game without them, but when a pair of Canadian Football Hall of Fame inductees clash on Sunday, it will simply be further proof that you can’t tell the story of one without the other.

For more than two decades, Hamilton Tiger-Cats head coach Orlondo Steinauer and Winnipeg Blue Bombers head coach Mike O’Shea have been the top-billed supporting cast member in each others’ biopics. For eight seasons, they played side by side on defences in Hamilton and Toronto, resulting in a pair of busts that will reside mere feet from each other for all eternity. For three more years, they served on the same coaching staff with the Argos and since becoming head coaches for their respective franchises, they’ve been a thorn in the other’s side.

For the second straight season, the pair will meet head to head in the Grey Cup. The duo share two championship rings that they won together, one as players in 2004 and the other as coaches in 2012, but in 2019 it was O’Shea who triumphed alone. For the former linebacker, it was his fifth Grey Cup victory in five appearances, while his defensive back buddy hasn’t been nearly as lucky.

“Wouldn’t you love for me to say fluke? Wouldn’t you love that?” Steinauer teased Saturday when asked about his opponent’s perfect Grey Cup record.

“I am not surprised, to be honest with you. Besides being a great friend, he’s a great coach. I’ve been around him, so I’m not surprised at all.”

You simply don’t spend that much time around another great of the game without developing a healthy appreciation for their success, and the respect is mutual. O’Shea seemed to indicate as much in his own press conference, cutting off a question on whether he thought the Ticats might have flashbacks to 2019 if the Bombers jumped to an early lead.

“Hamilton is gonna play the full 60 minutes and another 60 if we have to, I promise you that,” he interjected. “There’s not a lot of guys that make it this stage, that last if they say ‘here we go again.’ It doesn’t work out well for them and Steiny [sic] would never let that happen.”

In the ego-heavy world of professional football coaching, that nickname is telling. At heart, Steinauer and O’Shea are still just ‘Steiny’ and ‘Osh’, two former brothers in arms still battling to fulfill that competitive fire that stirred them to success as players. Just like brothers, they don’t mind having to rough up the other one to get it.

“Don’t let the smile fool you. Absolutely, we’re competitive. You don’t achieve the way we have on or off the field by just going through the motions,” Steinauer explained, grinning unironically.

“The thing I respect about Osh [sic] is that he works. Yeah, he’s in the record books and those are the tangible things to point to, but nobody wants point to what it took to get there. They just wanna point to the three hours on any given day that you may play. I got a chance to watch him tick from the inside out. Most people see him from the outside in and the results.”

Even within the bounds of that competition, there are moments of friendship that shine through, providing a glimpse into the relationship between two of the bestmodern CFL coaches.

When O’Shea first ascended to the top job in Winnipeg, Steinauer was in his ear with plenty of advice. When he rose to his own leading role, he found himself asking the forgiveness of a patient friend.

“I actually had to call Osh one time and apologize to him because when he was the head coach and things weren’t really going great for him and there was a lot of scuttle butt around, I was trying to help him,” Steinauer revealed Saturday.

“‘Hey, this is what I see Osh’ da, da, da, da, and this and that and the other, and he was awesome. Then I had to call him and apologize once I got in this seat and say ‘oh, it’s not that easy. I get it.'”

That’s not the type of interaction between coaches that is typically publicized, but there is little doubt that it is far from the last time that the two have chatted over the nature of their roles. Seeking a knowing ear from someone who understands both themselves and their job inside and out.

While their arrival on the game’s biggest stage for the second time is a testament to each man, the fact that they’ve done it in tandem may be an even greater marker of the other’s success. Orlondo Steinauer simply wouldn’t be Orlondo Steinauer without Mike O’Shea and vice versa.

No matter which emerges with the victory Sunday, that is unlikely to change.

J.C. Abbott is a University of British Columbia graduate and high school football coach. He covers the CFL, B.C. Lions, CFL Draft and the three-down league's Global initiative.