Winner loses all

GERRY PRINCE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

As the Eskimos cleaned out their lockers Monday, Tom Higgins said that if he was going to face the firing squad he'd prefer it be this week.

But rather than wait for president and CEO Hugh Campbell to find a half-dozen gunslingers, Higgins pulled the trigger on himself.

Less than 72 hours after the Esks lost to Saskatchewan in Sunday's Western Semifinal, Higgins ended a four-year run as the team's head coach by resigning.

"The decision was made yesterday afternoon," said Higgins at yesterday's press conference. "What prompted it was discussions back and forth with (team COO) Rick LeLacheur and Hugh Campbell. This had to be done for this football organization."

Campbell installed Higgins as interim head coach when Don Matthews was shown the door a week into the team's 2001 training camp. Higgins lost the interim label at the tail end of the '01 season.

Under Higgins, the Esks were 44-28-0-1 in regular season play and 3-3 in post-season play, including the Grey Cup. In addition to three consecutive first-place finishes in the West, the Esks made back-to-back trips to the Grey Cup and won it last November.

WITH THE STAMPS

Higgins joined the Esks as the assistant general manager in 1994 after nine seasons with the Calgary Stampeders and three seasons at the University of Calgary.

Before his stint as head coach, Higgins spent four seasons as the Esks' general manager and COO. His front office experience led him to the conclusion that resigning was his best option.

"Having been on both sides, it was quite obvious to me that Edmonton Eskimos football would be hard to be sold to our fans with Tom Higgins as the head coach," said the CFL's 2003 Coach of The Year, who was not offered another job in the organization.

"Some people will say I've been fired. Rick would be very kind to say that I resigned and had the opportunity."

The New Jersey native had one year left on his contract with the Esks. According to Campbell, Higgins and LeLacheur have negotiated a settlement, characterized by Campbell as very generous.

"In my quick calculations, I'm going to say it was double what he was contractually owed," Campbell said. "It was not an issue. When I think of all the bad things that happened, the settlement had to be a surprise."

Asked if public opinion after Sunday's home field loss to Saskatchewan undermined the team's marketability with Higgins at the helm, Campbell did his level best to avoid answering the question.

Offensive co-ordinator Danny Maciocia and defensive co-ordinator Greg Marshall are both strong candidates to replace Higgins, who recommended both as potential successors.

Campbell said the search for a new head coach will be exhaustive.

"I have not had any internal inquires into the job," he said. "But I would anticipate we would have coaches on our staff that would be very interested in the job.

"There won't be a quick hiring. We will definitely search the universe of coaches and wait in case of somebody being interested that we didn't anticipate.

"I will talk to every assistant coach and get their input and encourage Rick to sit in on those talks."

Maciocia, Marshall and the other coaches huddled in the Esks locker room during the Higgins and Campbell media conferences.

Maciocia admitted to being shocked by the news.

"He always had a positive attitude and never disappointed following a defeat," he said. "Tom Higgins hired me three years ago. He saw positives in everything and that's something that we want to keep with us."

WEIGHTY DECISION

As to whether he's interested in the head coaching job, Maciocia had little to say.

"I don't really have any comment on that and I'm being honest," Maciocia said. "I'm going to sit down with my family and make that decision."

Marshall plans to weigh his options.

After 11 seasons as a CFL assistant, Marshall would welcome a shot at a head-coaching job. With Joe Paopao reportedly on thin ice in Ottawa, Marshall, a fan favourite during his playing days with the now-defunct Ottawa Rough Riders, could appear on the Renegades radar.

"I just have to see what my options might be," said Marshall, who expressed deep regret and sadness over Higgins's resignation. "If that includes here, that would be great.

"At the same time I have to see what's best for my future and the best for my family's future.

"Obviously, I'd like an opportunity to be a head coach some day."


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