Higgins a master

JULIE HORBAL -- For Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Most professional coaches tend to fancy themselves as master motivators.

From cliches to prayer to anecdotes, they all have "the secret" to getting a team's psyche in the zone. But few of them actually succeed in getting into their players' heads without getting everything else out of their players heads.

Luckily for the Calgary Stampeders, however, Tom Higgins seems to have the secret -- and the fact the majority of Cowtown finds him motivational and charismatic to boot doesn't seem to hurt.

What seals the deal for Higgins, the Stamps' head coach and senior VP of football operations for the last year, is his constant ability to see the light in any situation and convey that -- with simplicity -- to his players, fans and community.

When discussing his philosophies on coaching, life and motivation, the much-respected Higgins is all about clarity.

And that counts for something with the Calgary folk.

"What it takes to succeed in football is the same thing that it takes to succeed in life in general," says Higgins, who, not-so-coincidentally, also works as a motivational speaker.

"It's teamwork. Loyalty. And a desire to be all you can be."

After 10 seasons in various positions with the Stampeders and 11 in varying capacities, including head coach, with the Edmonton Eskimos, Higgins lucked out in more ways than one when he returned to Calgary at the start of 2005 and stepped into the two roles. He led the Stamps to the playoffs last year and they are Grey Cup contenders this season.

Higgins began his playing career in Calgary, coached high school and university ball there and had three children within city limits. Because of that connection, the football community and Calgary community at large welcomed Higgins back with open arms even though he had recently led the rival Eskimos to the Grey Cup.

And the upbeat Higgins also took the reins of a brand new Stamps organization ready to be molded in his image.

"There were new owners and they allowed us to start from scratch and create a whole new attitude and environment," says Higgins, who vied for a Stamps head coaching job while an assistant under Wally Buono in the late 90s before jumping ship and joining the Esks.

When he was first negotiating his return to Cowtown two years ago, Higgins had only been asked on board as the VP of football operations. But he managed to convince the team's owners and board of directors he was the man to take control from top to bottom.

"I wanted to set the culture hands-on and on the field. No one person can do it alone and I've got great coaches working with me. But it's something when you come into a new organization and you're able to get things together and get the attitude the way it is needed to be," says Higgins. "The owners gave us every opportunity to do all the little things right from the get-go last year and now we're one year wiser and looking to do things better again."

At the start of this season, Higgins went straight to the grassroots level and boosted what he describes as the core attitude of the Stampeders organization: a feeling of community that comes out of the owners wanting "nothing but to give back."

The manager in him prompted Higgins to put himself and the team out in the public eye, giving to the community prior to expecting the community to fill the stadium.

"It's all about having a mindset of the universal law: The more you give away the more you get in return," says Higgins. "People needed to know before they came to us that we would be there for them and there was some stuff that needed to be done."

COMBAT BULLYING

Higgins and his squad went straight into high schools to combat bullying at the start of the season and then went to the University of Calgary to combat each other -- on the dance floor.

As part of a fundraiser for the school's dance department, a Dancing with the Stars-esque event was plotted and Higgins -- along with a dozen players -- learned to waltz, foxtrot and jive. The competition was unexpected by the coach, but was just one of the many things he took in stride while striding through his second season of coaching with ease.

"You're never really prepared to do something until you go out and you do it. But coming into Calgary, the 11 years I spent in Edmonton really prepared me well. It was also where I played and coached and it felt very much like a homecoming."

Higgins and his wife had all three of their children in Calgary, but raised them in Edmonton. The kids -- Hillary, Holly and Thomas Russell -- were unfamiliar with Cowtown upon their return ("Eleven years is a long time," according to Higgins) but got a big refresher from mom and dad.

Whether it be while fathering, speaking to the business and community groups he is hired to "motivate" or trying to get his players going, Higgins admits his style -- a combination of positivity and taking things one step at a time -- is a reflection of those who fathered, motivated and coached him.

"I had great mentors along the way and I always say a coaching style and lifestyle comes from the influences you have," he says, pointing to Lou Holtz, his coach from the University of North Carolina as the biggest influence.

"A lot of what I learned, I learned from him. He used to do magic in the dressing room. He had a rope trick. Now I do magic too. And it's entertainment, but you can't do magic without preparing for it and that's the point to bring home."

Though some teams are hoping to do magic on the field, Higgins gives his players only one goal when hitting the turf.

"To be better. That's the only reasonable management goal in life or sports. Whether you're a husband, wife, son or daughter," Higgins says. "If you do that, then you have the opportunity to do something very special."

Special may include the "big show" for most of the CFL, but on Higgins' bench the only thing special is living each day to its fullest.

Higgins admits to setting a few goals prior to the season -- make the playoffs and host a game -- but will not admit to setting sights on the one and only big game.

"It's a grave mistake to look too far ahead. Things will then pass you by," Higgins says.

"Every player wants to be in the Grey Cup, but that is not going to happen but to two teams. It's not that you shouldn't hope, but don't concentrate on that far-off goal without enjoying the little everyday things in life.

"No matter what you do, be it pushing through pain, improving, building a community or just having a better time, the ultimate goal in every day should be to be better today than you were yesterday."

Motivated yet?


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