Canadian Football League

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Tom Higgins named Canadian Football League coach of the year

Tom Higgins has a tough act to follow in 2006: his own.
Higgins was honoured as the CFL's 2005 coach of the year Thursday after leading a Calgary club to an 11-7-0 record, just one season after it posted a dismal 4-14-0 mark and finished last in the West Division. The Stampeders not only registered their first winning season since 2000, but also reached the CFL playoffs for the first time since 2001.
"I truly believe now because we've set the bar so high it will be very, very difficult for me to get back up here again with the Calgary Stampeders organization," Higgins told reporters after picking up the prize in Toronto.
"To go from four (wins) to 11 (wins) is miraculous but to go from 11 to 11 or 11 to 12, you just go, 'It's expected.'
"We're going to have to win a couple of championships maybe for me to have the opportunity to be here again at any point and time."
Higgins, 51, became the 10th CFL head coach to win the award twice, claiming the 2003 honour after leading Edmonton to a Grey Cup title.
Higgins was the runaway winner in voting conducted by the Football Reporters of Canada. The native of Colonia, N.J., received 33 of a potential 53 first-place votes.
Danny Maciocia, Higgins' replacement in Edmonton, finished second with 14 votes while Mike (Pinball) Clemons of the Toronto Argonauts was third with six votes.
For Clemons, it was his fourth straight nomination. He has yet to win the award.
Higgins became the first Calgary coach to receive the honour since Wally Buono did so in 1993.
The 2005 season was a watershed campaign for Higgins, who prior to joining the Stampeders spent four years as Edmonton's head coach and led the team to two Grey Cup appearances, including the 2003 win.
But after posting a 9-9-0 record in 2004, Higgins suddenly left Edmonton. His departure was called a resignation, but sentiment throughout the CFL suggested Higgins was fired after 11 years with the franchise.
Higgins, nicknamed Ned Flanders by the Edmonton media after the clean-living character on the popular Simpsons cartoon series, has steadfastly refused to kick sand in the Eskimos' face, even after receiving his award Thursday.
"I don't believe you can get ahead if you're trying to get even," he said. "I had 11 great years in Edmonton and I left with nothing but fond memories.
"It is so far removed now. I'm a Calgary Stampeder through and through. We will continue to compete against our big rival up north, that being the Edmonton Eskimos."
Shortly after being terminated in Edmonton, Higgins joined a Stampeders franchise that had been purchased by a new local ownership group following the 2004 season.
"From the start, 2005 started out a exactly the way you'd write it in a script," he said. "Brand new ownership, they bring in a head coach and say, 'What do you need? What do you want?'
"It's truly a reflection of the people you surround yourself with. I empower them, I ask them to work as hard as they can and give them as much credit as I can and if anything goes wrong in the organization, it's my fault."
Higgins has made Alberta his home, retiring as a player in 1981 to become a high school coach in Calgary. He went on to coach at the University of Calgary and spent nine years with the Stampeders before joining the Eskimos as their assistant general manager in '93, effectively giving up on his dream of being a CFL head coach.
But that dream became a reality in 2001 when Higgins stepped down as general manager to assume head coaching duties after Edmonton's messy firing of Don Matthews prior to the start of training camp. The club cited health reasons at the time, although Matthews did resurface a year later with the Montreal Alouettes, a position he still holds.
Higgins won't be leaving Calgary anytime soon. In the off-season, he signed a multi-year contract extension to remain the Stampeders head coach and senior vice-president of football operations.
"If you look back at the history I was rejected six times as a head coach," Higgins said. "I knew being with Wally in Calgary that I'd never be the head coach in Calgary, so I gave up my dream of actually being a head coach and went to Edmonton to become the assistant general manager.
"I can see now I'd like to have the opportunity to coach until they want me to move up (into front office) because I'd also like to lead a football organization one day," he added.


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