If Tom Higgins doesn't get the Edmonton Eskimos into the playoffs, he's fired. Sacked. Canned. Turfed. Terminated.
This isn't a scoop or anything on which to hang a headline. But let's be real. It doesn't matter if he won the Coach of the Year award or the Nobel Peace Prize last year. Nothing personal. But the coach of the first team to miss the playoffs in 33 years - or however many years it turns out to be be when the Eskimos streak is snapped - is gonna get an apple and a road map. This is Edmonton.
Keeping that in mind, when the Winnipeg Blue Bombers lost to the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, it suddenly put Higgins in an interesting position.
The Eskimos can now avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 33 years by managing to win one game.
They can lose to Montreal Monday. They can lose again to Saskatchewan in Taylor Field next Sunday. They can extend their losing streak to five games and still make it into the playoffs .
JUST BEAT WINNIPEG
All they have to do is win over Winnipeg two weeks today.
The whole idea as head coach is to have a team not only in the playoffs, but prepared to play well when they get there. Higgins, thanks to Winnipeg, is suddenly in a position to keep one eye on the team he fields against the Alouettes and another on the team he'll have two weeks from now.
Which may explain why he's not taking any chances with Singor Mobley's wonky knee Monday against Montreal.
In any other city with any other team, Higgins might be getting sympathy cards by now. This is a coach who lost Quincy Coleman due to a motorcycle accident and Donny Brady for a couple of games due to a stabbing outside of a nightclub. It's been a steady stream of lineup changes all season.
Darrel Crutchfield and Ed Hervey are getting back in for this one. But with Mobley, it just made it a good news, bad news week instead of just the bad news of the week before. That's when Tim Prinsen had to be replaced by Kevin Lefsrud at centre, forcing three position changes on the offensive line.
"That was the one which made me almost sick,'' said coach Tom Higgins when he listed this week's batch of lineup changes prior to practice yesterday.
"That gave me a terrible feeling in my stomach. That was like your worst fear coming to fruition. Sometimes you take your centre for granted, but the loss of a centre means the loss of your ability to execute, especially in the Canadian game.
"With Mobley it's more like, 'What did we do wrong? Is the Big Guy up there trying to get us or to test us?''
The Big Guy in the sky doesn't appear to like back-to-back Grey Cup champions. Since the Eskimos won five-in-a-row back in '78, '79, '80, '81 and '82, only Doug Flutie and the Toronto Argos managed to turn the trick. But Higgins is going with the idea that this is all just a test.
It's an interesting exercise right now to go back 11 months. Remember the Grey Cup champion Eskimos? You know. The team which beat the Alouettes to take the title? Ricky Ray. Bruce Beaton. Prinsen. Troy Mills. Steve Charbonneau. Kelvin Kinney. Signor Mobley. Those guys.
They were all starters in the Grey Cup game who won't be there Monday to play the Alouettes 16 games later, Mobley and Kinney the latest casualties of change.
Mobley is out with injury. Kinney will be a healthy scratch.
Change is a common condition in football at the best of times for the Eskimos as they take their second three-game losing streak of the season into Commonwealth Stadium against the Alouettes, who have had two six-game winning streaks and two one-game losing streaks in their 12-2 season.
With everything that's happened to his team this year, Higgins is still optimistic.
"We will be back at full strength by Week 18,'' says Higgins.
"It's a challenge in life, in business and in sport. Most people can see what's wrong. But sometimes you have to look a little harder to see what's right. There's a lot right here.There's two ways to go in situations like this. You can wallow in your own circumstances or you can say, 'This is our adversity. This is the hand we've been dealt' and deal with it. This is a team with a deep resolve.''
Higgins sees light at the end of the tunnel.
"If Prinsen doesn't come back, Lefsrud will have had four games at centre,'' he says.
"We'll have all four import receivers back and healthy. All of a sudden we'll have a lot of tools back in Jason Maas' tool box.''
Higgins says it's still there for his team.
"The Calgary Stampeders won the 2001 Grey Cup after going 8-10,'' said Higgins.
That's true. It's also true that Eskimos have won a dozen Grey Cups, and the most losses they ever had in doing so was seven. They've played in 21 modern-day Grey Cups and, again, never managed to get there with more than seven losses.
The Eskimos already have eight.
A positive person would light up and say, 'Hey, a chance to make history!'
Higgins, you've no doubt noticed by now, is a disturbingly positive person.