Stamps' Higgins CFL's top coach

Calgary Stampeders' Tom Higgins is named CFL's coach of the year for 2005

A dramatic turnaround in Calgary was reason enough to reward the Stampeders' Tom Higgins with CFL coach of the year honours.

Higgins, in his first season with Calgary, received the accolade Thursday at a league award luncheon in Toronto.

He beat out finalists Mike (Pinball) Clemons of the Toronto Argonauts and Danny Maciocia of the Grey Cup-champion Edmonton Eskimos.

Higgins, who also won the award in 2003 with Edmonton, guided Calgary to an 11-7-0 record and a second-place finish in the West Division standings. By comparison, the Stampeders were a lousy 4-14-0 in 2004 when they finished last in the division.

Calgary had its first winning season since 2000 and first home playoff game since 2001. But the Stampeders ran out of steam in a 33-16 semifinal loss to the Eskimos.

"This is a reflection of the organization – no one does this alone," said the humble Higgins, recognized in voting conducted by the Football Reporters of Canada.

The native of Colonia, N.J., was a runaway winner, receiving 33 of a potential 53 first-place votes.

"I truly believe now because we've set the bar so high it will be very, very difficult for me to get back up here again with the Calgary Stampeders organization," Higgins told reporters after picking up the prize.

"To go from four (wins) to 11 (wins) is miraculous but to go from 11 to 11 or 11 to 12, you just go, 'It's expected.'

"We're going to have to win a couple of championships maybe for me to have the opportunity to be here again at any point and time."

Clemons lost out again despite being nominated for the fourth straight year. Maciocia, who succeeded Higgins in Edmonton, was nominated in his first season as a CFL head coach.

Higgins, 51, spent four seasons as the Eskimos field boss and won his other coach of the year award in 2003 after leading the club to a Grey Cup title. He resigned after a disappointing 2004 season when Edmonton dropped to 9-9.

Despite the resignation, it was widely believed Higgins was actually fired by his former club and told he had no future with the Eskimos. He regrouped quickly and quietly, resurfacing with a Stampeders team that was under new local ownership.

"From the start, 2005 started out a exactly the way you'd write it in a script," he said. "Brand new ownership, they bring in a head coach and say, 'What do you need? What do you want?'

"It's truly a reflection of the people you surround yourself with. I empower them, I ask them to work as hard as they can and give them as much credit as I can and if anything goes wrong in the organization, it's my fault."

Higgins became a CFL head coach in 2001 with Edmonton, when he stepped down as general manager to assume the on-field duties after the messy firing of Don Matthews prior to the start of training camp.

with files from Canadian Press