Win one for the Gipper

IAN BUSBY

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

REGINA -- If the Calgary Stampeders are victorious today, their head coach wants it to be because they earned it for themselves and not to save Tom Higgins' job.

But with rumours swirling that Higgins will be replaced by John Hufnagel as soon as this season is done, the Stampeders would prefer to win one for the Gipper.

"He just wants us to win for ourselves -- he's very selfless when it comes to that," said veteran left guard Jay McNeil, who will retire at season's end.

"The guys really respect him and enjoy him as a coach. He's a role model for everyone by the way he treats people. We would like to win one for him -- win three in a row for him actually."

The Stamps arrived at Mosaic Stadium yesterday and Higgins faced questions about his future at the news conference before today's West semi-final (3 p.m., CBC).

Although the rumours are a distraction that may have galvanized the team, Higgins has been through this before. One player pulled him aside this week and asked if he was going to address the team, but the coach refused to make it about him.

"Through all of this, he's been nothing but positive," McNeil said. "It takes a really strong person to do that, and I admire him for it. There are a lot of reports about us falling apart, but it really has brought us together."

While quarterback Henry Burris called the Hufnagel situation nothing but fiction, kicker Sandro DeAngelis said the team would love to reward their current coach.

"He's the best head coach I've ever played for," DeAngelis said. "I can't picture being a Calgary Stampeder without him. He's a class act and one tough SOB. He is being dealt a tough hand. To say it's his fault when we're losing is BS."

There is a chance Higgins could be offered another role with the Stampeders, or he could end up being someone else's head man.

It's far too early to tell.

But he's not looking for sympathy right now, nor did he then.

"Is there anybody here who is going to cry for Tom Higgins? Of course not. Come on," Higgins said.

"It could be a last game for a handful of coaches and players. I don't live my life with any regrets. If it ends tomorrow, it ends tomorrow.

"To me, it's not the case because I'm still alive and kicking. I would like to be here for as long as I'm allowed to. It will be addressed after we're all done."

Although the Stamps struggled to a 7-10-1 record this season, Higgins is happier with 2007 more than last year when the team was 10-8 but let on-field antics such as touchdown celebrations get out of control.

So the organization said this spring the regular season does not matter and the goal is playoff victories.

"After the past couple of regular seasons, people have said, 'Great, Tom, good job,' " Higgins said. "Now we aren't saying that because we want a playoff win. Our players don't feel any pressure, and maybe we did a good con job on them.

"This whole week in my mind is a little bit of a test. There are times when you would like to kick the garbage can, but I've learned not to do that because the garbage can may hurt your foot."


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