Last call

Edmonton Eskimos' Head Coach Tom Higgins resigned on Wednesday, less than a year after he led them...

Edmonton Eskimos' Head Coach Tom Higgins resigned on Wednesday, less than a year after he led them to the Grey Cup and was honoured as coach of the year. (Edmonton Sun File Photo/Darryl Dyck)

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:56 AM ET

Tom Higgins was fired by Tom Higgins.

He would have been fired by Hugh Campbell and Rick LeLacheur but he beat them to the trigger.

"He felt he was done as head coach," said Edmonton Eskimo COO LeLacheur.

It happened Tuesday morning when Higgins sat down with LeLacheur on what he thought was a routine visit to his office. "I said, 'How you doing, Tom?' " said LeLacheur. "He said, 'I'm done as head coach.' "

Not long later, Higgins officially became ex-head coach of the Eskimos.

Not that you'd know that's how it went down if you attended the press conference yesterday.

"He felt he was done as head coach," was never mentioned as such. Higgins talked around it, Campbell walked around it - but it never got said. The way it was presented, there was a hole in this story you could have driven the Eskimos' fire truck through.

CLASSY, CLASSIC

In all my years of covering coach firings, I've never experienced a more classy or classic way to leave than Tom Higgins's exit, or as evasive a boss about doing the dirty deed as Campbell, although he came close in firing Don Matthews.

Higgins never really cut it down to the way it went down: "It's how you would choose to write it. Some would say fired. I'd say I've resigned. I'm telling you I resigned.

"It's hard to sell Tom Higgins as head coach," he added. "Tom Higgins is not marketable here. A decision had to be made. It may be that I can't take this team to another level."

Higgins said he doesn't think an expiry date on his head coaching career here came as a result of the 9-9 record, losing the West semifinal or the bonehead call on the fake punt that turned the game.

The guy, who carried the nickname Ned Flanders, said part of it involves his image.

"There is something strange about my personality and what's sellable. I wake up with a smile, I'm always positive and I think people look at me as being close to being crazy. You'll never have another guy as skinny, as bald-headed or as positive as myself."

Campbell said Higgins feeling he isn't marketable is baloney. "Tom is marketable. He's beating up on himself."

LeLacheur said Higgins has been a study since his first day on the job.

"He's always been a lightning rod. Sometimes I think he is too nice to be in football."

Whatever, Higgins said he felt it's been building and would probably have happened even if he'd won the West semifinal.

"The Eskimos need a new fresh face and a new look, a new person with a clean slate."

With how Campbell talked about Higgins, his three first-place finishes in four years, his 44-28 record including two trips to the Grey Cup and one championship, you'd have figured he was announcing the hiring of a new head coach, not the firing of an old one.

TOMFOOLERY

According to Campbell, Higgins isn't outta here because he'd lost the players, lost nine games, lost the Western semifinal or because he made one of the dumbest calls in the history of frozen field football, the 'Tomfoolery' fake punt, or anything else.

The correct answer, of course, is 'all of the above.' But Campbell wouldn't admit it.

Higgins saw it all. And he made the call.

"When Tom said, 'I'm done as head coach,' I said, 'Best we go see Hugh,' " said LeLacheur, adding that Higgins is a smart man who knows the business, and just got to it before his bosses did.

"He's been on both sides," said LeLacheur of the football side and the business side.

"He knows it's bigger than the team being 9-9, losing the West semifinal, the fake punt or the rest of it. He knows that a lot of the people expressing their displeasure are customers of our organization. We would have come to the same conclusion down the road. But yesterday we all agreed."

Campbell did say "any opportunity for Tom to come back collapsed during our discussions and not a minute before. I clearly heard Tom resign before I came to my conclusion. After Rick and I huddled up, if he had changed his mind he'd have been fired."

Maybe it's better this way. Higgins leaves here a little like Ron Lancaster, who won a lot of games and a Grey Cup. But when he lost the 1997 Western Final to Saskatchewan at home, he knew his time was up too. He just got gone with a little less mess.


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