Higgins reports for duty

Stamps new head coach Tom Higgins says the team is in better shape than last year's 4-14 record...

Stamps new head coach Tom Higgins says the team is in better shape than last year's 4-14 record suggests. (Calgary Sun/Darren Makowichuk)

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Maybe he's just an eternally upbeat man but Tom Higgins wasn't all that worried about the Calgary Stampeders' state of affairs after his first full day on the job.

Higgins -- hired Friday by the Stamps as senior VP of football operations and head coach -- wasted no time getting down to business yesterday.

What he found while setting up a temporary work space at McMahon Stadium was the Stamps aren't in as bad shape as last year's 4-14 record would suggest.

Calgary has one of the shortest list of key free agents in the league, it holds the No. 1 pick in the CFL Canadian college draft and only one main position remains vacant on the coaching staff -- offensive co-ordinator.

"The only thing that could have been better is if we could have been in place a week ago or a month ago," Higgins said.

"All said and done, we are where we're at and we're actually not in a bad position. It's not in as bad a shape as anyone would make it out to be."

The first order of business is finding that offensive co-ordinator.

Higgins has already made overtures to a candidate he wouldn't name.

R.D. Lancaster, the offensive co-ordinator in Winnipeg last season, could be a candidate but is a frontrunner for the job in Edmonton.

Former Stamps head coach Steve Buratto -- the offensive co-ordinator in B.C. last season -- has been mentioned as well.

Higgins should announce his OC by the end of the week and then get down to filling out the remaining staff. He met four of the holdovers from last season separately and as a group yesterday to give them direction on the next couple weeks of work while they're still under contract.

Assistant head coach/defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan will keep his son, Casey, on board as defensive line coach and secondary coach Mike Roach seems likely to keep his job. The roles of offensive line coach Carl Brennan and assistant coach Craig Dickenson remain up in the air until an offensive co-ordinator is hired.

"I have a very, very short list and I'll go right down the list," Higgins said.

"Time is of the essence and I'd like to have someone in place, if possible, sooner rather than later."

With Denny Creehan in Florida and Jim Barker, the new GM of player personnel, in Las Vegas on scouting missions, Higgins is trying to get a sense of talent available.

On Saturday, Barker got to see McMaster running back and Hec Crighton winner Jesse Lumsden up close at the East-West Shrine Bowl in San Francisco.

The record-setting running back was impressive, leading the East in rushing yardage, but Higgins was too busy to sit down and watch.

The Stamps will have a tough decision on whether to risk the first pick on Lumsden, who's sure to get some NFL interest.

"But there is an advantage to the first pick, that's no question," he said.

"That's one of the things we'll be working on hot and heavy."

The next order of business is luring the short list of Calgary free agents into contracts. Linebacker John Grace would seem priority No. 1 after his outstanding season but Higgins considers the likes of Albert Connell, Wane McGarity and Omar Evans all important pieces.

"We don't want any of them to be free," Higgins said. "I don't want to prioritize them. But anyone would say we wouldn't be smart if we let any of them get away."

When he took over as Eskimos coach during the 2001 training camp, Higgins had none of the luxuries he has now. Players report for physicals May 28, which leaves four months to get the house in order.

Right now, Higgins is working out of the large office that overlooks the south end of the football field but, in 11 years, the office has changed as much as the team.

"It's had a lot of different paint jobs," Higgins said. "There needs to be a little shuffling of the furniture but it's really exciting."

TOM'S TO-DO LIST

In his new job as senior VP of football operations and head coach,

Tom Higgins is very busy. Here's a look at his possible to-do list:

* Hire an offensive co-ordinator and devise a game plan to turn woeful attack into an exciting force.

* Decide which coaches from last season will stay with the team. Note: Denny and Casey Creehan have contracts for 2005; Carl Brennan, Craig Dickenson and Mike Roach do not.

* Go over the list of Stampeders free agents and make offers to those we want to keep. Call John Grace's agent repeatedly.

* Scan the free-agent lists of other teams and see who looks good. Note: We can't talk to or about any of them until after the free-agent window starts Feb. 15.

* Call Jim Barker and Denny Creehan about player personnel they're seeing at NCAA college bowl games. Barker has already evaluated Jesse Lumsden and he looks very, very good.

* Arrange the office, set up a computer.

* Buy a house and move the family back to Calgary from Edmonton. Narrowed area down to the northwest.

* Take a deep breath.


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