Premier was a stinker

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 10:35 AM ET

Tom Higgins can't help but hope his playoff debut as Calgary Stampeders head coach outshines his post-season premiere in 2001 as the Edmonton Eskimos boss.

In his maiden voyage piloting the Green and Gold, Higgins posted a lukewarm 9-9 season, albeit good enough for first place in the CFL's weak West.

While the Stampeders were busy knocking off the B.C. Lions in the semifinal, the Eskies were waiting to capitalize on home-field advantage, earned in part by taking two of three contests that season from Calgary.

Almost everything weighed in Higgins' favour four years ago -- just as it seems to today -- yet a funny thing happened on the way to the Grey Cup.

Higgins and the Eskimos were left at home while the Stamps, upset specials to say the least, vaulted over Edmonton by destroying the home side 34-16 a week before winning the Grey Cup.

"2001?" grimaces Higgins, rummaging through his memory bank for details he'd much rather forget.

"We lost a defensive back in Week 18 and we brought in Quincy Coleman and thought we could coach him up. No chance. They had him turned every which way but loose."

The next year, the Eskimos lost the Grey Cup at home before earning the title the following season in Regina. A year later after a hasty semifinal exit, Higgins was gone.

"It was a great learning experience," Higgins says.

"Every team has a different dynamic but you use everything you've learned and believe in and go from there. If you second guess yourself, you can't coach. Every opportunity is a learning experience."

Eight-year Eskimos linebacker Singor Mobley has tried to forget that 2001 West final but the scars remain. That day Stamps offensive co-ordinator George Cortez unveiled a six-receiver set that baffled the home team and capitalized on its weaknesses.

"2001? Oh, geez, that's a long time ago," Mobley says. "First of all, we turned the ball over 14 times. If you turn the ball over 14 times and don't lose, there's definitely something wrong."

New Eskimos head coach Danny Maciocia is already being grilled in Edmonton over last week's loss to the Stamps, forfeiting home-field advantage in the playoffs. It's the kind of heat Higgins felt in Edmonton during his four-year reign.

"You're going to get criticized along the way as a head coach, that comes with the territory, especially in Edmonton," Maciocia says. "As coaches we understand that. I guess when you win, good players overcome bad coaching and when you lose you get out-schemed. That's just the reality of (criticism)."


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