MMQB: Ticats provide an early Christmas gift

“I’m where my feet are.”

Those five words from Orlondo Steinauer resonated with me more than any others following the 108th Grey Cup. Minutes after a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Bombers, Hamilton’s head coach was asked about rumours linking him to a vacant defensive coordinator job at the University of Washington.

Not only were Steinauer’s feet in Hamilton then, they’re also staying there.

The Tiger-Cats gave fans an early gift on Christmas Eve when they announced Steinauer was coming back for the 2022 season in an expanded role. Steinauer will return as head coach and is also adding president of football operations to his job title.

For those that were surprised by the news, perhaps they shouldn’t have been. Steinauer has been adamant since the end of the season he wasn’t focused on anything but his job with Hamilton.

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Orlondo Steinauer worked through the majority of Grey Cup week with rumours swirling that he was a candidate for the defensive coordinator role at the University of Washington (J.P. Moczulski/CFL.ca)

“I can look everybody in the eye and say I have not been contacted by the University of Washington,” Steinauer said. “In this profession it feels good to be wanted. There’s championship windows and windows for coaches, too. That’s why I truly mean: I’m where my feet are planted.”

It’s not like the Washington connections were far-fetched. Steinauer was born and raised in the Seattle area. He was a three-sport standout at Lynwood High before moving on to Western Washington University in nearby Bellingham. And that’s just the personal side.

When the Huskies hired Kalen DeBoer as their new head coach, it wasn’t hard to connect the dots between him and Steinauer. The two were part of the same Fresno State coaching staff in 2017, with DeBoer serving as offensive coordinator opposite Steinauer at defensive coordinator. There was plenty to suggest Washington was a great fit for Steinauer.

The Huskies went in another direction, as William Inge and Chuck Morrell will handle the defensive coordinator job as a tandem. Whether Steinauer was under consideration or not, Washington’s decision was the first clue about his return to the Ticats. Last week’s news was just the confirmation.

But Hamilton advanced the story. By taking over as president of football operations, this is unquestionably Steinauer’s team. For a guy who seemingly has success wherever he goes and knowing what he’s accomplished the last two seasons in Hamilton, I can’t imagine that was a hard decision.

Steinauer is a brilliant football mind who has two trips to the Grey Cup in two seasons as a head coach. He relates extremely well to his players. And he comes at the job with a measured and calculated approach mixed with fire and passion.

Why wouldn’t the Ticats want Steinauer to be the organization’s tone-setter from the top down?

Hard reboot

While Hamilton is keeping a good thing going with Steinauer, the Edmonton Elks hit the reset button last week with the hiring of Chris Jones. The team’s new head coach and general manager returns to Edmonton for his second stint at a time the organization needs it most.

2021 was a trying season for the Elks. The team went 3-11 in a year defined by losses in eight of their last nine. Three was the lowest win total in Edmonton’s long history, going back to their inception in 1949. To really underline their struggles, the Elks went 0-7 at Commonwealth Stadium. For an organization as storied as the Elks, it just wasn’t acceptable.

“What I’d like to do is turn this organization back to where it should be and have a lot of fun doing it,” Jones said at his introductory news conference. If his first go-round with Edmonton is any indication, Jones has the chops to follow through on those intentions.

If you recall, Jones instantly turned things around upon his arrival with the Elks in 2014. As a first-time head coach, Jones helped a 4-14 team the year prior go 12-6 and make the Western Final. One season later, Edmonton went 14-4 and won the Grey Cup for the first time in a decade.

It wasn’t quite as instantaneous when Jones joined the Roughriders the following season, but he still got results in short order. Arriving for the 2016 season, Saskatchewan went 5-13 in Jones’s first year, a slight improvement from 3-15 the season before. The Riders then went 10-8 and 12-6 in Years 2 and 3 with Jones at the helm.

Using either example, Jones has a track record of turning teams around, which is exactly what Elks fans are looking for. Jones gets the most out of his players. He has a high-end football mind, especially on the defensive side of the ball. And his work in player personnel is underrated but impressive. I’m not sure there was a better choice in Edmonton’s situation.

The only remaining question is how long Jones’s tenure will last in his second Edmonton stay. After winning the Grey Cup in 2015 with Edmonton, Jones bolted for Saskatchewan. His time there only spanned three years before an NFL opportunity in Cleveland presented itself. Jones is aware of the concerns and he’s ready to change the narrative.

“I signed a four-year deal to try to show the fact this is where I want to build a legacy,” Jones said. “It’s time for me now to do what is more in line with what (John Hufnagel) and (Wally Buono) did and that’s go somewhere and stay for a long time.”

Whether it’s a two-year or a five-year stay, if Jones gets the desired results, this hiring will be a successful one. The Elks need the hard reboot.

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