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Mike O'Shea, Orlondo Steinauer have their respective teams back in 2021 Grey Cup game

HAMILTON — Wins and losses are important, but Mike O'Shea and Orlondo Steinauer believe -- as CFL head coaches -- they're in the people business.
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HAMILTON — Wins and losses are important, but Mike O'Shea and Orlondo Steinauer believe -- as CFL head coaches -- they're in the people business.

It's an approach that seems to work for O'Shea, the head coach of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, and Steinauer, who's completing his second season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Their teams meet Sunday at Tim Hortons Field in the 2021 Grey Cup game.

Winnipeg defeated Hamilton 33-12 in the last Grey Cup contest played in 2019.

"When you put 70 people into a room, they're not all going to like you," Steinauer said Wednesday at the Grey Cup coaches' news conference. "It's not about getting them to like you, can you get them to bond?

"That gives you the best opportunity as a team. You deal with them as people, not as X, Y, Z, however you want to label them. The bottom line is humans and people make mistakes so there's got to be a certain amount of grace. But at the same time you're responsible for winning and losing but you know that when you sign up. That's not the focus."

O'Shea agreed.

"Yeah, he said it pretty well," O'Shea said. "If not for grace I wouldn't be sitting here. 

"The other thing you realize with people ... life is going on for these guys outside that door. As much as you ask them to get focused as soon as they walk through it, it doesn't work that way. You have to respect the fact that their life is going outside those walls too."

And life has become much more complicated since the '19 Grey Cup.

O''Shea and Steinauer share the same philosophy regarding the issue of vaccinations. The CFL didn't play in 2020 due to the pandemic and held a shortened 14-game campaign this year that required players, coaches and tier-one personnel to follow COVID-19 protocols.

Last month, Ottawa introduced new regulations barring unvaccinated individuals from air travel. O'Shea confirmed Wednesday that offensive lineman Asotui Eli was unable to travel here a day after reports surfaced that the team placed Eli on the suspended list due to COVID-19 protocols.

"You have to deal with each person individually,' O'Shea said. "You have the broad statement saying, 'Here's what the science suggests, here's what the protocols are, here's what might come down the pipe as we go along.'

"As always, you're dealing with humans. You're listening to the players, you get a sense of where they're coming from. Like with anything, when a player isn't able to play for whatever reason, what comes to my mind is the person, what they're feeling and the turmoil they're going through ... in the end it's always about the individual player."

Added Steinauer: "I never had a strong meeting about what they should or should not do.

"They're humans, they can make their own decision and while from the outside looking in, it might be, 'Well that's personal, that's selfish,' that doesn't enter the mind. It's their personal choice. With the protocols and everything changing, not just outside the building but inside the building, that was a tough juggling act. But all you had to know was you weren't the only team going through it and you just push on."

Winnipeg (11-3) was the CFL's top team during the regular season and overcame six turnovers to dispatch Saskatchewan 21-17 in the West Division final. Hamilton (8-6) was second in the East Division and advanced to the Grey Cup with playoff wins over Montreal (23-12) and the Argos (27-19).

Steinauer and O'Shea are certainly cut from the same cloth.

They were teammates in Toronto (2001-08) with O'Shea playing middle linebacker and Steinauer lining up in the secondary. The two also spent time together breaking down game film as part of their preparations.

O'Shea and Steinauer won a Grey Cup as players with Toronto in 2004. They earned another as Argos assistant coaches in 2012.

The 51-year-old O'Shea, a native of North Bay, Ont., is in his seventh season as Winnipeg's head coach. He's a finalist for the CFL's coach of the year honour for the first time.

Steinauer, 48, from Seattle, was the CFL's top coach in 2019 after guiding Hamilton to a league-best 15-3 regular-season record.

O'Shea and Steinauer have earned a reputation of being players' coaches. That could help explain why both teams still have many veterans on the roster from the '19 Grey Cup game.

"They're just two great coaches," said Hamilton linebacker Jovan Santos-Knox, a former Bomber (2017-18). "I know they were teammates and I know it must be a special thing for them going against each other.

"Two great guys I really, really respect."

Winnipeg is minus only 13 players from its '19 Grey Cup roster while Hamilton is without 18 regulars from two years ago. Both figures are impressive considering the abundance of one-year deals in the CFL and annual turnover of league lineups.

"He (Steinauer) has always related to people," O'Shea said. "Best in the room at relating to the players.

"Besides all the Xs and Os and how just damn smart he is, he's just a better dude you want to hang out with and have a beer with. That's pretty simple for me."

Once again, Steinauer nodded his head in agreement.

"I know that doesn't make good storylines ... but he's that guy," Steinauer said. "Coach is a title, I think we're people first.

"I got to keep it light or I'll get emotional. I care about him as a person. I'm not shocked why he's up here again. He's just a fighter. Everybody should be proud, he's a true Canadian and what the CFL is all about."

But Steinauer didn't stop there.

"They will be prepared," he said of the Bombers. "They play hard and when you play hard as a general statement, it doesn't matter where you play ... if you play hard with your talent, it gives you the best opportunity to achieve.

"That's what they do."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2021.

Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press

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