Back when they were teammates with the Toronto Argonauts, Mike O’Shea and Orlondo Steinauer always figured they’d coach together.
After winning a Grey Cup as players with Toronto in 2004, O’Shea and Steinauer added another CFL title as Argos assistant coaches in 2012. But neither ever thought much about squaring off as head coaches.
That became a reality Friday night in Hamilton when Steinauer’s Tiger-Cats defeated Winnipeg 23-15, handing O’Shea’s Blue Bombers their first loss of the season following five straight victories.
With the win, Hamilton (5-1) remained atop the East Division, tied with Winnipeg for the CFL’s best record.
“When we played, I think we were both cut from the same cloth,” said Steinauer, in his first season as Hamilton’s head coach. “I actually pictured us coaching together, which happened.
“Playing against each other? That never really crossed my mind until he took the path to go to Winnipeg.
O’Shea, 48, of North Bay, Ont., spent three years as Toronto’s special-teams coach before becoming Winnipeg’s head coach. He endured a rocky start with the Bombers, missing the playoffs his first two seasons while posting a 12-24 combined record.
But under O’Shea, Winnipeg has gone to the playoffs the last three years and registered a 33-21 overall mark.
“I’m just happy for Mike,” Steinauer, a Seattle native, said. “Everybody is looking at now but there were some rough times, some losses in a row.
“It’s special for Osh and I, it’s fun to talk about. I think he’s earned this type of recognition.”
In typical fashion, the humble O’Shea downplayed the significance of facing Steinauer, 46, for the first time as CFL head coaches.
“I think it’s a good angle for a lot of media stories but it’s the players on the field who are out there battling,” O’Shea said.
“We’ll talk before the game, wish each other well and then let our guys go at it.”
O’Shea always saw himself continuing his football career as a coach with Steinauer.
“Why would we coach together?” he said. “We appreciate each other, we see the game the same way for the most part, we had a lot of good experiences together.
“I don’t think it was a matter of talking about coaching. He was already a coach.”
The two played together with Toronto (2001-08), O’Shea a hard-nosed middle linebacker and Steinauer a versatile performer in the secondary. In 2000, Hamilton acquired O’Shea from the Argonauts for a package that involved Canadian running back Éric Lapointe and the rights to Steinauer.
After serving as Toronto’s defensive backs coach and defensive co-ordinator from 2010-13, Steinauer went to Hamilton as defensive co-ordinator (2013-16). After spending one season as Fresno State’s defensive co-ordinator (2017) in the NCAA, he returned to the Ticats (2018) as assistant head coach under head coach June Jones before being promoted to the top job prior to this season.
O’Shea had a decorated CFL career, being named the league’s top rookie in 1993 and outstanding Canadian six years later. He won three Grey Cups with Toronto (1996, ’97, 2004) and retired as the only Canadian player ever to register 1,000 career tackles.
O’Shea was inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame in 2017.
“We used to watch film together often and when we didn’t, we’d come in and often have the same questions,” Steinauer said. “I just always looked at Osh as a coach.
“He would’ve been great at whatever he chose to do. As a player next to him, I just think it was easy. He’s just a leader by nature.”
Steinauer was a five-time CFL all-star as a player. He won two Grey Cups (’99 with Hamilton, ’04 with Toronto) and retired ranked second overall in all-time interception return yards (1,178).
“You felt good knowing he was behind you because it was all going to be right,” O’Shea said of Steinauer. “It was going to be made to be right no matter how imperfect the play may’ve started . . . you had this safety net behind you.
Orlondo Steinauer, head coach for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, is shown prior to playing the Ottawa Redblacks in CFL pre-season football in Ottawa Saturday, June 1, 2019. Either Orlondo Steinauer or Craig Dickenson will emerge victorious in the CFL head-coaching debuts. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
“With his guys, he always had them doing the right things. On a play by play basis, to have that is pretty cool.”
Steinauer said while winning championships with O’Shea was special, so too was going through the daily grind.
“Some of the best O’Shea moments are just daily practice and hanging out and just being guys and friends,” Steinauer said. “He just believes in doing things the right way, whatever that is.
“He’s a guy who’s going to do it to the fullest and he’s going to challenge you. When you’re sitting down and having a beer with Osh, we’re laughing. He’s a great person, which gives him the best opportunity to be a great coach.”
In O’Shea, Steinauer saw a player who would readily rise to and accept any challenge.
“Osh didn’t put up with anything on the field, I’ll tell you that,” Steinauer said. “He’s going to handle his business.
“If you wanted to try him, you could try him. That’s really how he played the game. He didn’t back down from anything. That was a fun quality to have in a teammate for all those years together.”
WINLESS ARGOS: These are tough times for the Toronto Argonauts.
Toronto (0-6) remains the CFL’s only winless team after dropping a 26-0 decision in Edmonton on Thursday night, capping a rough three-game road swing. It marked the first time the team had been shut out since 2009.
Shaquille Cooper, replacing the injured C.J. Gable, ran for 128 yards and a TD on 22 carries in his first start for Edmonton. It’s the fourth time this season a player has run for 100 or more yards against the Argos.
Once again Toronto had trouble protecting the ball as Edmonton forced five turnovers (three interceptions, fumble recovery, downs). The Eskimos also had four sacks, boosting their league-best total to 23.
Toronto quarterbacks McLeod Bethel-Thompson and Dakota Prukop were a combined 14-of-31 passing for 158 yards with three picks.
The challenge doesn’t get any easier. Toronto returns home Thursday night to face the Blue Bombers.
ANOTHER QB HURT: Jeremiah Masoli’s season-ending knee injury Friday night just adds to what’s shaping up to be a brutal year for starting CFL quarterbacks.
The Ticats quarterback suffered a torn ACL in the first quarter of Hamilton’s 23-15 home win over Winnipeg.
Masoli becomes the sixth starter to go down this season. The others include Calgary’s Bo Levi Mitchell, Saskatchewan’s Zach Collaros, Toronto’s James Franklin, Ottawa’s Dominique Davis and Montreal’s Antonio Pipkin.
The timing of Masoli’s injury could not be worse as the veteran quarterback is in the final year of his deal with Hamilton.
Backup Dane Evans, who relieved Masoli versus Winnipeg, is expected to be Hamilton’s starter when it visits the Roughriders on Thursday night.
The Ticats will also be minus linebacker Simoni Lawrence. He’ll serve the final game of a two-game suspension for hitting Collaros in the head during Hamilton’s season-opening victory.
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