Higgins ruffled some feathers

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:38 AM ET

The public perception was Tom Higgins lost the Edmonton Eskimos dressing room the day he took over as head coach from Don Matthews one week into the team's 2001 training camp.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, says veteran kicker Sean Fleming.

"That's not even close," said Fleming. "People who aren't around football, don't understand football and don't know how the coaching structure is. Tom was there more as an administrator.

"He obviously made decisions on the field, but as far as the plays, the way our offence was set up and the way our defence was set up, that was the assistant coaches and the co-ordinators.

"He was the head coach but he let the coaches do the coaching. Tom was put in a pretty difficult situation when Don left. The positive thing was he let the coaching staff do their thing. He kind of sat back and let things unfold."

Fleming was shocked by the timing of the move, but not surprised by Higgins's departure.

"I think this may have been in the works for a while, more so from his standpoint than anyone else's," Fleming said. "I don't think any coach has been under the amount of pressure and scrutiny that he's been under,"

"He's always kept a positive outlook on things - some people may say to the extreme. I'd rather have somebody as positive as he is than somebody who's the complete opposite.

"I really can't say anything negative about the guy. I'm disappointed but I'm happy for him because I'm sure there's a lot of other avenues that he's going to pursue and I'm sure it'll involve football."

Higgins irked the Green and Gold vets by trotting out a whistle during one of his first days on the job.

He then sent defensive back Torey Hunter packing, which didn't go over well in the room.

And Higgins did little to endear himself to the veterans by cutting linebacker Terry Ray just before the start of the '03 regular season.

Despite the turmoil over Ray's departure, the Esks rolled to a 13-5-0 regular season finish and the team's first Grey Cup title in a decade.

"I was pretty bitter over those two (personnel) decisions," offered linebacker Singor Mobley, who is Hunter's cousin and Ray's best friend.

Despite their differences over the years, Mobley expressed sadness about Higgins's departure.

"With Tom being gone, it's sad that it's happened," said Mobley, one of 13 Esks eligible for free agency in February. "But all things must come to an end.

"I don't know if it's because of the (fake punt) call or it's just time for him to go. It's one of those things that I don't know."

The players weren't the only ones stunned by yesterday's event.

Receivers coach Dan McKinnon was hired by Higgins three seasons ago.

McKinnon was still trying to get a handle on things as he left the dressing room after yesterday's press conferences.

"It's always sad to see a colleague go and for things to end this way," said McKinnon, who was hired at the same time as offensive coordinator Danny Maciocia. "I talked to Tom about it and it was his decision.

"We're in this business because we like it but we know the risks.

"We haven't had a chance to reflect on what's happened yet. We'll have to wait and see what direction the team is headed.

"I won't be a candidate for the head coaching job but there's a couple who are strong candidates and it would be a pleasure to work with either of them."


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