To Orlondo Steinauer, this isn’t odd at all. But the Fresno State Bulldogs’ new defensive coordinator does understand why some would find it peculiar. A college football team – one at the bowl subdivision level, at that – hiring a defensive coordinator in the Canadian Football League, which features 12 players on offense and defense, a wider and longer field, and three downs instead of four.
That move just doesn’t happen every day.
But coach Jeff Tedford did it, hiring Steinauer away from the Hamilton Tiger Cats, where as assistant head coach and defensive coordinator he deployed one of the best defenses in the CFL.
This is not going to be my defense. This is going to be our defense, and it’s going to be something that the city of Fresno can be proud of. I see us flying around and doing what we do, having fun making plays.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer
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“I don’t think it would be any different whether Coach Tedford hired a guy that was a coverage guy or a pressure guy,” Steinauer said Thursday in a phone interview. “There’s always going to be people that have questions, and I think that’s good.”
“I am extremely fired up,” he said. “I’m excited for this opportunity. I’m excited to work with Jeff and the staff that he has assembled. It’s going to be fun.”
Tedford was traveling and unavailable to comment, but Steinauer doesn’t see a rough transition crossing the border even though he has not coached in college since a stint as the defensive backs coach at alma mater Western Washington from 1996-98, had no hand in the hiring of defensive backs coach J.D. Williams or linebackers coach Bert Watts and hasn’t recruited high school players since he was at Western Washington.
Steinauer didn’t know Tedford much, either, before he called the Tiger Cats and requested permission to make a run at their defensive coordinator.
“Not a lot, outside of handshakes before the game and just some small talk that coaches do,” Steinauer said. “This is not like we’re longtime friends and finally get a chance to work together. It’s not that story at all. I didn’t know Jeff well. I just competed against him and definitely respected what he brought and what he did, and obviously there was a mutual respect in what he was preparing against.”
Hamilton last season led the CFL with 17 interceptions and was second with 50 sacks, two areas in which the Bulldogs struggled last season. Fresno State was in a three-way tie for 10th and last in the Mountain West with just five interceptions and 11th with 14 sacks.
But the game, at its roots, is the same, and the Tiger Cats last season led the CFL with 17 interceptions, were second with 50 sacks and third with 16 forced fumbles and 59 pass knockdowns while running the Canadian version of a multiple 4-3.
“Here’s the thing to remember: Football is football, between the whistles,” Steinauer said. “You’re going to pass it, or you’re going to run it. You have to get them on the ground, and you want to keep them out of the end zone. The fact that the field is long and wider up here makes it definitely more difficult – there’s a lot more motion. But the game of football is the same – it’s still to tackle people, to score touchdowns or to prevent people from scoring touchdowns.
“Nothing changes there. What transfers, it’s still the game of football. There are some intricacies as far as the field dimensions and an extra player, but it’s still the game of football.”
It is too early to know what Fresno State will run, Steinauer said, but once the Bulldogs’ staff is complete, the coaches will assess the players returning from a 1-11 season and incoming freshmen. Fresno State, despite that record, has some pieces coming back from a defense that improved through the year, ranking seventh in the Mountain West in total and scoring defense at 415.1 yards and 30.9 points per game.
The Bulldogs had only seven seniors on their two-deep roster on defense for the regular-season finale against San Jose State, a 16-14 loss in which they allowed only 322 total yards to an offense that had racked up 30 or more points and 420 or more yards in three consecutive games.
Up here, you do have a personnel department, but the coaches have a bit more say in the personnel and you’re a little more active than you would be in the NFL, where there’s something for everybody – a head scout, a regional scout, etc. In Canada, you’re a little more hands on with some teams. It has been a long time, not since Western Washington, but I feel there are a lot of transferrable skills in what we’ve been doing in Canada to recruiting in the states.
Fresno State defensive coordinator Orlondo Steinauer, on recruiting
“You have to basically marry what you have and then you build a plan around the players,” Steinauer said. “Once the staff and I get in a room and we sit down and decide what players we have, I think we’ll be better able to describe what type of defense we will be. Up here, I can speak of what I have been: I’ve been more of a pressure guy. But at times we’ve been coverage. I would say that we have a good chance of being a multiple defense.
“I think the quick thing is everybody wants to separate everybody: What are you going to do offensively? What are you going to do defensively? What are you going to do with special teams? Let’s face it. The goal is to win games. I think it’s what we can get done collectively as a football team.
“Once the whole staff is assembled, we’ll sit down with Coach Tedford and put together what’s going to give us the best chance to win football games rather than just think of it as, ‘What am I going to do?’ It’s what are we going to do as a team to give ourselves the best chance to win. That to me is what it’s about.”
Robert Kuwada: @rkuwada