Stamps back in saddle

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:36 AM ET

Clearly, it's the Canadian Football League equivalent of the home reno from hell.

From the outside, the Calgary Stampeders were a fixer-upper. Still, the new ownership group could hardly wait to get its hands on the keys to the franchise in early January.

Seemingly every time the new owners tore down another sheet of drywall or peeled back the carpet, there was nothing but wood rot and termites.

While the club may not be a total money pit, it's far worse than Stampeders president and CEO Ted Hellard and his fellow investors feared.

"Now that we've got a much better feel for what was happening day-to-day, the complexity of what we believed was happening or the issues that we knew would be there are probably 200% to 300% more difficult than we'd first envisioned," said Hellard yesterday.

Rather than try to move forward using the business methods of their predecessors, the new owners gutted just about every department in the organization and started from scratch.

"We've been trying to put this business together structurally so that it functioned more as a business and will allow us to provide the proper foundation," said Hellard.

"It's been a fairly significant mess, to be honest. It's something we've got a decent handle on but it will take some more time to turn around."

Hellard says the biggest challenge was sorting out the team's finances.

"There was some tremendous strains on trying to understand where money was, where it had gone, where it was spent," he said.

"Then we had to come to grips with exactly how we could facilitate the football group in terms of giving them enough ammunition to be competitive."

Evidently the bookkeepers couldn't unravel the financial knot to a point where the Stamps could hire themselves a new coaching staff and then go out and sign quarterback Henry Burris and receiver Jeremaine Copeland.

The Stamps may not be picked to finish first this season but head coach and vice-president of football operations, Tom Higgins, likes what he sees on the current depth chart.

"We've challenged every one of our athletes to be better than they were last year," said Higgins, the former Edmonton Eskimos head coach.

"When you are brand new, there are going to be some surprises. There are going to be people that you thought you evaluated that weren't as good as they're going to show in training camp.

"There's going to be people that you thought were maybe better than they will show in training camp. But that's what happens. Everyone is going to have a great opportunity."

By shelling out hefty coin for Burris and Copeland, the new owners demonstrated to the ticket-buying public they're serious about rebuilding the Calgary franchise.

With season-ticket sales up by roughly 2,000 over the same period last year, football fans in Cowtown are demonstrating a willingness to forgive and forget.

How forgetful and forgiving remains to be seen. Another four-win season could sour fans on the new regime. Hellard and Higgins are painfully aware of that.

"Anything short of being better than we were last season is unacceptable," replied Higgins. "There's a lot of optimism around town and the media have even been talking about the Grey Cup. Realistically, we expect to make a push for a playoff spot."

Never one to take defeat lightly, Hellard, too, has visions of a playoff berth. But like everyone else in the Calgary organization, Hellard is looking well beyond this season.

"I think the vast majority of fans believe we have a legitimate shot at getting that," he said. "Personally, I don't like the Grey Cup pressure the media are putting on.

"For me, as an owner and as a fan, my expectations are to always win. We've put together the best coaching staff we can and we've put together the start of the best team that we can.

"And we will continue to improve that team at every opportunity we have. Long-term, you're trying to build a team and a foundation that will allow you to win a Grey Cup."


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