Canadian Football League

Friday, January 14, 2005

The new owners of the Calgary Stampeders named Tom Higgins head coach and senior vice-president of football operations Friday but made it clear returning the team to glory will likely get him a promotion.
"His job for the next year is to get the culture down," said co-owner Ted Hellard, who will be interim president for a maximum of two years. Defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan was promoted to assistant coach and the plan is for him to succeed Higgins as head coach in 2006.
"We think we've built a nice plan for the two of them to define the culture, then let Tom start to look after the executive side," said Hellard, who will work for free.
That frees up anywhere between $250,000 and $500,000 for the football operation and "allows us to get more competitive quicker," said Hellard.
Higgins, who began his coaching career as an assistant with the Stampeders in 1983, resigned as Edmonton Eskimos head coach in November after being named the CFL's coach of the year in 2003 after guiding Edmonton to a Grey Cup title.

Higgins would not say what changes he intends to make to the Stampeders lineup, especially at quarterback. The club acquired veteran Khari Jones late last year from Winnipeg and while he was a definite improvement over what Calgary had, there are football people throughout the league who feel Jones's best days are behind him.
"There's a very good nucleus here," said Higgins, adding he was thrilled that several players attended the news conference Friday announcing his appointment. "I'll get a chance to know them on a personal level and after we do our due diligence and all our evaluations would it be appropriate to talk about Calgary Stampeders' personnel."
Higgins - known by some in the CFL as Ned Flanders for his nice-guy, classy persona - believes the coaching staff should be settled by the end of next week.
"The pieces of the puzzle are being put in place," he said.
During his four seasons with the Eskimos, Higgins amassed a 44-28 record, finished first in the Western Conference three times, made two Grey Cup appearances and won it all in 2003.
Higgins has also taken a turn as a motivational speaker, a role that could come in handy with the Stampeders, who posted a CFL-worst 4-14 record last year and have been in turmoil for three seasons.
Higgins says Calgary's defence, the club's strength last year, will be even better this year, given Creehan's expanded role. After an offensive co-ordinator is hired, there will be a strong focus on bolstering the offence and special teams.
"I believe we can be competitive right out of the blocks," said Higgins.
His appointment, rumoured for weeks in Calgary, was applauded by those players in attendance Friday.
"He beings a winning record with him, he did nothing but win up there in Edmonton," said linebacker Scott Coe. "It's going to spread like wildfire here around here.
"That's just the type of personality he has."
Offensive lineman Jay McNeil came to Calgary the year after Higgins left.
"I talked to the guys who played for him: they loved him," said McNeil. "He's just a genuinely nice guy and it's going to be bring a lot of stability to our team and we need that right now."
Former Stampeders coach Jim Barker returns to the club as general manager and head of player personnel.
Higgins said the Stampeders' front-office shuffle won't hurt the already heated Calgary-Edmonton rivalry.
"The fans know it, they come out in droves for it but there's a lot of football that needs to be done before we entertain the team from the north," said Higgins.
John Forzani, part of the new ownership group that took control Wednesday, says success can boil down to leadership from well-grounded people.
"What really seems to work well is coaches who . . . are kinda low-key, model citizens, salt of the earth: the Sutters and now Tom Higgins," said Forzani, a former Stampeders' teammate of Higgins in the 1970s. "I think we have someone who will lead us in the right direction through discipline, through organization and through having feelings for the group he'll be working with."
The new ownership group took control of the team from Michael Feterik on Wednesday and wasted no time making changes. The following day, head coach-GM Matt Dunigan and president Ron Rooke were fired.
Darrell Moir, who has worked for Hellard building digital marketing firm Critical Mass, will be Calgary's senior vice-president of marketing and operations.
Former president Stan Schwartz, who was let go unceremoniously during the 2003 season, will return as a "chief mentor."


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