Some more Mr. Nice Guy

IAN BUSBY, CALGARY SUN

, Last Updated: 9:53 AM ET

Jay McNeil's first brush with Tom Higgins was a decade ago but the offensive lineman can still remember it like it was yesterday. "I talked to him on the phone a few times before I was drafted by the Stamps," said McNeil yesterday as Higgins was named senior vice-president of football operations and head coach.

"He was a genuinely nice guy. He's going to bring a lot of stability to our team."

The only contact the all-star guard has had with Higgins since is across the sidelines from him in heated Battles of Alberta.

Years before Higgins became coach of the Edmonton Eskimos, he was a Stampeders assistant coach scouting young talent.

Nothing has changed. McNeil got the same impression he did yesterday as when he was a pro hopeful coming out of Kent State.

"This was even before the CFL draft and I wasn't a Stamp," McNeil recalled. "I was putting feelers out there. He was extremely helpful, telling me what I needed to do. I sent him film and he evaluated it. He did all sorts of things for me. A couple weeks later, he goes off to the Eskimos and I couldn't believe it."

Higgins started his current Stamps tenure by complimenting Calgary's defence from last season and talking about linebacker Brian Clark, in particular.

Clark, who was standing at the back of the Stampeders locker-room, had a good laugh about the recognition.

"I just saw him five minutes before the press conference," Clark said.

"We're both from New Jersey, so it's kind of a sign of respect. It's like The Sopranos, that's how we do it there.

"He does know who I am but he is just starting to know the players. As the months go by, he'll know a lot more about us."

After playing against Higgins' Eskimos teams his entire CFL career, Clark has a healthy respect for the upbeat, cheery coach.

"Just look at his record," Clark said. "You can't take away from what he's been doing in Edmonton. Just like when we got Khari (Jones) at the end of last season, we're not going to be a laughingstock anymore."

The Stamps picked up Jones near the end of 2004 to solidify the quarterbacking situation and he can't wait for a fresh season to start.

The veteran pivot hasn't had any professional connection with Higgins but feels he can work well with the coach.

"We've had battles over the years with his teams," Jones said. "I'm looking forward to seeing his coaching philosophy up close. Just talking to him briefly (yesterday), it seems like he's a very grounded person.

"I'm really curious to see who's going to be offensive co-ordinator. That's the million-dollar question."


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