Higgins given unfair ride by loose-lipped Stampeders brass

BILLY POWERS

, Last Updated: 7:53 AM ET

What developed this week at McMahon Stadium must certainly be an embarrassment to a group of community-minded people who are trying to keep professional football alive in our city.

What the Calgary Stampeders did to head coach Tom Higgins was -- to use just one word -- brutal.

But this was a long time in the making, so let's go way back to tell the whole story and how one loose lip can lead to the embarrassing situation of Wednesday afternoon.

It was a club barbeque that one of the owners offered this kind of comment to a well-known football mind who had not in any way asked to hear it. The owner said John Hufnagel will be the coach of the Calgary Stampeders in 2008. This was early in the season, after that disaster of a road trip and before quarterback Henry Burris became the quarterback the club thought they had purchased three seasons ago.

That football mind took the unsolicited statement back to work and into the community, telling one person, who told another, who in turn told more. It wasn't long then the idea had reached Eric Francis on the first tee at Heritage Point, Mark Stephen, as he dropped one of his kids off at school, and yours truly, as I ordered a special to go at Spolumbo's.

The ball stopped rolling Wednesday, when Higgins said he had turned down a club offer to stay on staff in a non-football position because my family knew it "would not make me happy because where I find my greatest joy is interacting with pro football players."

What he didn't say was the offer was a less than half of what he was making as the head coach and there is a GM's job open with the Hamilton Tiger Cats and a coaching spot should open soon on the staff of the Montreal Alouettes. A football mind like that of Higgins should be scooped up in short order.

Further, it would have been tough for him to stay around considering the treatment he got as the ownership group worked on securing the services of Hufnagel.

They started the season with a One Team-One Goal theme -- the one goal being that elusive Grey Cup championship.

Well ... I'm here to tell you the one-for-all, all-for-one idea -- a good one to be sure -- did not get out of the main office. Higgins did not have the control a coach should have nor did he have complete support from the people around him.

Club president Ted Hellard did the right thing, I think, in letting Higgins announce his own future at the newser but then took the microphone to offer the former head coach an apology for what had developed behind the scenes the past couple of weeks.

His words were sincere, but the damage had been done, and that damage as much as anything else led to the West semifinal loss in Regina a week ago.

There were too many distractions for the head coach, although he seemed to handle them well, and for the players who gave it their all but on that day were simply outclassed while shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties.

When 'Huffer' takes over as the head coach and GM, it will be with complete control of football decisions. I'm not sure Higgins had that luxury and, at times, seemed handcuffed by on-field moves, like benching linebacker Brian Clark for the playoff game yet dressing but never using running back Ken Simonton, who had been so impressive in the regular season finale.

Higgins was brought here to produce a winner, and, while the wins dropped with each season, he always got the club a playoff spot. And in this league that's sometimes all that's necessary if a team gets hot at the right time. It didn't happen, but I'm wondering if the Stamps had made the final today against B.C.'s Lions and went on to win the big one next week, would Higgins still be an unemployed coach?

Until next week.


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