Stamp of approval?

ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

All the football fans in Edmonton who loved to hate former Eskimos coach Tom Higgins -- and there are plenty, judging from the catcalls at Commonwealth Stadium and venom on the talk-shows -- will soon have another reason to get on his case.

He's about to become the new head man of the Calgary Stampeders.

Independent sources in Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton say that the Stampeders will welcome the former Eskimos head coach and general manager on board at a press conference early this week.

His exact role has yet to be confirmed, but by all accounts it's a done deal. Matt Dunigan, who has two years left on his contract as head coach and GM, is going to be bought out so Higgins can move in and take over at least one of the posts.

"I don't know if it's as head coach, general manager or both," a football source in Edmonton said yesterday. "But he's going to Calgary."

At the same time, BC Lions coach Wally Buono told the Calgary Sun he fully expects to see Higgins wearing red and white at the next Labour Day Classic.

Buono says Higgins's track record -- a 2003 Grey Cup and years of experience in CFL management -- makes him a perfect candidate. As does his close friendship with Stan Schwartz, the former Stampeders president who's expected to get his old job back in the upcoming shuffle.

RELATIONSHIP WITH STAN

"If you look at Tom's background, what he's done in Edmonton, and you look at his relationship with Stan, if Stan is the guy involved that makes sense," said Buono, who held the coach and GM jobs in Calgary before former Stamps owner Michael Feterik ushered him out the door.

"He's done a lot in Edmonton that's helped him to grow. He's been a very good administrator, won a Grey Cup. I don't think there's too many people who can have that on their resume."

Higgins tipped his hat that something is up during a brief cellphone interview yesterday on the subject. Asked about the Calgary job, Higgins said he was busy but would do an interview shortly.

"Give me a call back in about an hour," he said.

"At this number?"

"Yes, 4:30 at this number."

An hour later the cellphone was shut off and there was no answer at the Higgins residence.

That's almost the identical manoeuvre former Oilers assistant coach Ted Green used a few years when called about rumours he was going to New York. Um, I gotta go, but call me right back, then no answer for the rest of the night and the next morning he surfaced in New York.

THE MAN'S BACKGROUND

Higgins spent four years as head coach of the Eskimos, compiling a 44-28 record, three first-place finishes in the Western Conference with two trips to the Grey Cup, including a victory in 2003. He spent the seven years before that as Edmonton's assistant GM and then GM.

But his roots in Calgary run just as deep, if not deeper. He spent nine years with the Stampeders (1985-93) as special teams coach, offensive co-ordinator and assistant head coach, working alongside Schwartz before the latter became president.

Higgins also coached football at Calgary's Crescent Heights High School and then at the University of Calgary from 1982-84, leading the team to two conference titles and a Canadian championship.

It remains to be seen who'll fork over the $1M buyouts for Dunigan and soon-to-be ex-president Ron Rooke, but it's unlikely the new ownership group, headed by Ted Hellard, John Forzani and Doug Mitchell would want to inherit that tab on their first day.

Feterik, who met with all the Stamps' staff on his way out yesterday to inform them of the deal and assure them it'll be business as usual, will more than likely be responsible.


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