Odd twist of fate

DAN TOTH -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 12:17 PM ET

Life's little twists of fate are usually worth a few chuckles.

Rapping your thumb with a hammer while advising a co-worker to be careful can draw a smile from onlookers.

Tearing the bumper off the family wagon while teaching junior how to parallel park is also good for a hearty guffaw from the rest of the family.

Tom Higgins has been the key character in some peculiar circumstances, too, although the irony certainly didn't leave him buckled over in laughter.

The Calgary Stampeders head coach has been to the CFL penthouse and enjoyed the view, winning a Grey Cup after punching all the right buttons with the Edmonton Eskimos in 2003 before also claiming coach-of-the-year honours.

Guaranteed job security, right?

Months later, he was banished to the outhouse, (although he tendered his own resignation before Esks boss Hugh Campbell could pull the trigger) after the Esks lost the 2004 West semifinal to Saskatchewan.

Thanks for coming, now take your coaching trophy and get the hell out!

"The joke of the year in my mind was coach of the year one year and then out of a job the next year," Higgins muses, clearly not enamoured with annual awards or the kiss-of-death nature of such recognition. "That's not my worry now. We live in a fishbowl existence, which is fine."

That fateful autumn day Higgins -- ultra conservative on the exterior - chose to gamble but lost on third-and-long, essentially sealing his own fate.

Hours later he was pushed out the door and now, almost a year to the day, his Stampeders can clinch home field for the West semi by knocking off the visiting Eskimos today at McMahon Stadium.

Win or lose, he certainly has the inside track to once again get his hands on the Annis Stukus Trophy as the CFL's top bench boss.

In Edmonton, despite a 44-28 regular-season record, two trips to the Grey Cup and one title ring, Higgins was on the ropes.

He was blasted by some media and fans for his third-and-19 flopped fake punt late in the first half against Saskatchewan. Although the Esks still led 3-0, the 'Riders converted the turnover into a touchdown en route to a 14-6 upset win and a ticket to the West final.

Lost in the turmoil was the fact the trick play was there for the taking had punter Sean Fleming hit a wide-open Mike Bradley with a throw any high school quarterback could complete. That the Esks still had 30 minutes to recover is a fact also lost in the shuffle.

When pressed prior to Labour Day to discuss his feelings about facing his old team, Higgins clearly wanted to move on, demanding he had already put the past behind him, revelling in his new role in Calgary.

It isn't about him, Higgins insists, underlining the notion any success the 10-7 Stampeders have achieved this season comes from accentuating team values.

"The most important thing we've done is created an environment of team," says Higgins, who is even made uncomfortable over the recent voting for team nominees for league awards.

No matter what the Stampeders accomplish in the playoffs, reviving Calgary's franchise after consecutive seasons of six, five and four wins is enough to again place Higgins in the running for coach of the year.

And personal accolades are secondary to team goals.

"Hopefully the journey has been as good for everybody in the organization," Higgins says.

"If it comes, it comes. We're just trying to do some damage come playoff time."


Videos

Photos