MVP of X's and O's

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:40 AM ET

Tom Higgins, with the CFL coach of the year award securely stowed in his carry-on luggage, had more pressing issues on his mind before winging his way home from Toronto yesterday.

"Give me a weather update," Higgins anxiously requested over the phone before boarding his plane.

"Not too bad? How about the cold?"

Told the folks back home in Calgary were digging out after a rather nasty winter storm, the Stampeders head coach remained upbeat.

As for the Stampeders' forecast, the skies are especially sunny these days. With an 11-7 record in 2005 and the team's first playoff berth in four seasons, the outlook for 2006 and beyond is also more optimistic than in recent years.

Higgins inherited a team that won just four games in 2004, missing the playoffs for the third straight season.

Suddenly, the focus is on much grander goals, with Higgins leading the way into a new era.

That was affirmed yesterday with the presentation of the Annis Stukus award at the annual CFL congress in Hogtown.

"Now we're like almost every other organization in terms of high expectations," said Higgins, who also won the award in 2003 after leading the Edmonton Eskimos to the Grey Cup championship.

"The top-notch organizations like Edmonton that has won 33 years in a row and has been in the playoffs ... we're trying to establish long-term success and I think we've laid a great foundation for that to happen. This is something that has to be shared, in my mind. As I've said before, there's no single individual who could do what we did in a single year. This is the icing on the cake for 2005 and now we have to start working on 2006."

Stampeders president Ted Hellard, whose ownership group handed the reins to Higgins 13 months ago, said the coaching award reaffirms the franchise has the right building blocks in place.

"I'm not a believer in individual awards and, to be honest, I don't think Tom is either," Hellard said.

"I believe the coach of the year award is a reflection on the whole organization, the coaches and everyone else who put forth the effort to be able to achieve what we achieved last year."

Hellard said Higgins' strength is in his ability to run the show without letting egos and personal agendas get in the way.

"He's a facilitator, able to go into situations with relatively little ego in comparison to the sport and as a result he doesn't have to subdue the other egos with force," Hellard said. "He does it with sort of a quiet logic so the rest of his team can do what they do best.

"We have a long ways to go but we're on the right track with everybody back from last year."

Higgins was selected for the award by members of the Football Reporters of Canada after receiving 33 of a possible 53 votes. He is only the 10th CFL coach in the last 45 years to win the award more than once.

Edmonton head coach Danny Maciocia and Toronto boss Michael Clemons were the other finalists.

Wally Buono was the last Stampeders coach to earn the award, winning in both 1992 and '93.

EXTRA POINTS: The Stamps are talking contract with Canadian WR Mike Juhasz, the team's only free agent ... The Stamps have had discussions with free-agent non-import WR Jason French, who spent the last five years with the Saskatchewan Roughriders.


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