On a cool, windy evening in June, Orlondo Steinauer, ’96, B.A., sociology, was formally inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame at Tim Hortons Field in Hamilton, Ontario.
The ceremony recognized Steinauer’s storied playing career in the Canadian Football League.
It also marked the first time a Western alum has been inducted into any major professional sports hall of fame.
Steinauer, a consensus All-America cornerback at Western in 1995, was a dominant defensive back during his 13 seasons as a player in the Canadian Football League. He played for three teams including the Ottawa Rough Riders, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, and the Toronto Argonauts.
Known to many by the nickname ‘O,’ Steinauer won the CFL Grey Cup championship, a smaller version of the NFL Super Bowl, with Hamilton in 1999 and Toronto in 2004.
Steinauer's professional career featured 49 interceptions, including five returned for touchdowns. His 1,178 interception return yards are the second most in CFL history. And his career is still going: The night after sitting alongside his wife Gina and their three daughters in the hall-of-famer section, Steinauer returned to Tim Hortons Field as head coach and president of Football Operations for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats playing their 2022 home-opener against the Calgary Stampeders.
But throughout his playing and coaching career, it’s never been just about football for Steinauer. Gina and O first met in 1992 at WWU. Then known as Gina Sampson, she was the school’s Female Athlete of the Year in ‘95 and ‘96 while playing basketball. After completing her bachelor’s degree in sociology in 1996, Gina spent a year in Australia as a player-coach for a professional team and was named National Player of the Year. Then she returned to Bellingham as the top hoop assistant at Western for three seasons.
Orlondo Steinauer led WWU to a 9-1 record as a senior in 1995, the Vikings’ being ranked No.1 nationally in the final poll. Western’s Male Athlete of the Year, he had a national-leading 10 pass interceptions that season, giving him 20 for his career.
In 2003, the couple made a decision to find one place to live that would be home. They became Canadian citizens and the family settled in Hamilton. Gina worked as a counselor for an international relocation firm in Canada and coached her daughters on various club teams.
A stint in the U.S.
Steinauer retired from playing in 2008, and began coaching professionally, as an assistant at Toronto for two seasons, helping the Argonauts to a Grey Cup title in 2012. He then assisted at Hamilton for four years, going to the Grey Cup twice.
Steinauer’s success caught the attention of former BC Lions head coach Jeff Tedford, who had just returned to the NCAA Division I ranks to coach at his alma mater, Fresno State, taking over a team that had won just one game in 2016.
“When I was in the CFL last, and having to prepare to play Hamilton, it was a nightmare,” Tedford said at a news conference introducing Steinauer as his defensive coordinator.
The move to California was a major one for Steinauer. While the family was happily settled in Canada, head coaching positions, collegiately and professionally, were far more plentiful in the United States. So, they decided to return to the U.S.
But while Steinauer had played by American rules in high school and college, his last 20 years as a player and coach were under Canadian rules. Those are much different: The field is longer and wider, 12 players are on the field for each team instead of 11 and there are three downs to a possession as opposed to four.
Nevertheless, in 2017, Steinauer helped Fresno State become only the second team in college football history to win 10 games the year after losing 10 or more games, going from 1-11 to 10-4. The Bulldogs lost the conference championship by just three points and ended the season with a win at the Hawaii Bowl.
That year, Steinauer was a finalist for the Frank Broyles Award which goes to the nation’s top collegiate assistant football coach. A big-time college head coaching job seemed just a phone call away.
But he was concerned about the demands his job had on his homelife, leaving before his kids were awake and coming back after they had gone to bed.
Making the best use of time
Steinauer remembered his own childhood as an only child of a hard-working single mother and a father he never knew. Growing up in Seattle, he often awakened and returned to an empty home. His grandfather, Gene, a police sergeant in King County, and his grandmother, Bonnie, helped fill the void, but his experience growing up, often by himself, left an impression.
“I think I’m in tune with the little things that I think make a big difference, like bike rides, homework, calls, texts … going to the water, doing things we are passionate about.” Steinauer said in an interview with TSN Football Insider Dave Naylor. “That’s important to me because I didn’t have it.”
“Football isn’t who I am, it’s what I do. I know for others it’s different. It’s not for me to judge them. But I know what matters to me and our family. I want to see my kids. I want to be a part of their lives. This job allows me to do that.”
So when those phone calls came in for coaching jobs, Steinauer focused on just one: Hamilton President Scott Mitchell wanted Steinauer back home, assisting NFL stalwarts June Jones and Jerry Glanville, while making the transition to directing the team.
A year later in 2019, Steinauer became the Hamilton head coach and guided the Tiger-Cats to a 15-4 record, tying the CFL win-loss record by a rookie head coach, and earning a trip to the Grey Cup. He was named CFL Coach of the Year.
And following a season lost to the pandemic, Steinauer led Hamilton to yet another Grey Cup appearance in 2021. “Football matters so much to me,” says the 49-year-old Steinauer. “It gave me a life. It gave me a career. The CFL has afforded a certain lifestyle that works for me.” And the Steinauer family is flourishing.
Oldest daughter Kiana is interning as marketing manager for the Brooklyn Cyclones, a Class A farm team of the New York Mets. She earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology and marketing at Southern Connecticut State University in 2020 and just finished her Master of Science degree in sports management.
Before her basketball career at SCSU was cut short by injury as a senior, Kiana was just the second player in NCAA II women’s basketball history to have a 30-30 game with 31 rebounds and 33 points. That effort earned her a spot in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd.”
Rheyna, the middle daughter, just started at SCSU on a basketball scholarship. And Taeya, the youngest and a senior in high school, has already been endorsed by the rest of the family as the best athlete of the three.