Mr. Fix It's secrets

IAN BUSBY -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

Around the CFL, struggling clubs are firing coaches and releasing players, hoping the replacements can find the tonic to turn dismal seasons into winning campaigns.

Sweeping changes have started in Hamilton, Ottawa and Winnipeg and each team will be looking to bring in new people with experience, credibility and ability.

Those franchises sit in nearly the same situation as Calgary Stampeders one year ago, when the Red and White were coming off seasons of six, five and four wins.

Miraculously, the Stamps' fortunes turned around this January when a new ownership group took over and gave the reins of football operations to Tom Higgins.

With Higgins came plenty of management experience, knowledge of the game and credibility in the CFL.

Sorry, struggling CFL clubs, Higgins isn't available to help turn around your franchise, although he leaves a formula in place to follow.

First, assess the organization from top to bottom and find what elements worked and what didn't. Example No. 1: Defensive co-ordinator Denny Creehan was part of the old regime and was retained.

Second, assemble a coaching staff with plenty of experience and know-how. Example: Hiring former Grey Cup champion head coach Steve Buratto as offensive co-ordinator.

Of course, no organization can function without great players, so the best course of action is to get top free agents at every position of need. Examples: Quarterback Henry Burris, receiver Jeremaine Copeland and offensive lineman Alexandre Gauthier.

Don't forget to build the Canadian content and having a thorough general manager like Jim Barker can help in the CFL college draft to replenish areas where depth is important.

Example: Second-round pick Godfrey Ellis now starts at centre in place of the injured Jamie Crysdale.

Put these things in place and your CFL franchise will flourish. Just try to remember where it starts.

The head coach is the one person in a sports organization who deals a little bit in every area of the business, from nagging player injuries to presenting a strong public perception.

In every way, Higgins has delivered on what the Stamps needed from him, bringing a strong image back to the team while delivering a sense of calm around the clubhouse.

Under Higgins, there are no fights in the locker-room, no players arrested, no backstabbing or squabbling like the incidents in Philadelphia with Terrell Owens.

When told he should be a shoo-in for CFL coach of the year, Higgins gives his typical it's-not-just-me response but it best describes why he should be commended for his work.

"We created an environment where the most important thing is to enjoy the journey, not the destination," Higgins said.

"If it's the destination you put all your stock in, you will get there and it will be hollow."

The destination this week is the West semifinal and a chance to fight for the Grey Cup for the first time in four years.

But no matter what happens Sunday at McMahon Stadium against the Edmonton Eskimos, the 2005 season is a success for the Stampeders.

No club in the CFL kept building towards the end of the season quite like the Stamps, who went 7-1 and their last eight games after a 4-6 start.

No team in the league looks like it will be a championship contender the way Calgary will be for the next few season, having locked up the core group of players to long-term contracts.

"Where we are today, it's night and day where we will be in 2006 and 2007," Higgins said.


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