This story is from M Petrie of the Calgary Herald.
Arrived in Vancouver today, went to B.C. Lions practice, loaded my belly with sushi (Kadoya on Davie St. - amazing!), filed stories and have some time to catch up on the site. With all the recent activity around the Stamps, I've been pelted with comments and questions about this and that. A lot of people are asking the same stuff, so here are some rapid-fire responses . . .
• I've found it amusing how many people say Tom Higgins should have been retained in some type of football operations role. A problem the past few years has been too many people in the picture. It doesn't make any sense to bring in a guy and give him full control but keep the previous head coach perched over his shoulder. That was a no-brainer.
• Some people have asked if Ted Hellard is responsible for leaking (mis)information about the hiring of John Hufnagel. It wasn't him. Most of the ownership group was taking care of business the same way anyone else would (see next point). We first reported on Hufnagel in the Herald in June and then confirmed an agreement between Hufnagel and the club on Nov. 6. That night or the next day, a radio or newspaper report had erroneous contract terms and all kinds of incorrect details of the ensuing moves. Why would Hellard or anyone else looking after the best interests of the team leak that "info?" Obviously, someone somewhere wanted to make life miserable for Hellard, Higgins and members of the ownership group by throwing out a red herring.
• Others have questioned the ethics around the Stamps pursuing a coach while they have a coach under contract. It's not a pretty thing to do, but it's reality in pro sports. Without accusing Eric Tillman of anything, I have a hard time believing that he didn't talk to Kent Austin last season while Danny Barrett was still his head coach. I could be wrong and Tillman wouldn't admit it (why would he, he doesn't have to) but I bet they were getting their ducks in a row. In an eight-team league where everyone knows everyone and the talent pool is well-known, teams have to protect themselves. What would Stamps fans say if Hufnagel was named head coach of the Alouettes on Friday? They'd have been choked. It's very harsh, but it's reality. The problem arose because Calgary's ownership group couldn't keep its internal affairs in order.
• Has Hellard been too hands-on? No question. Despite his best intentions, there were times when he was a negative influence. He learned a lot the past three years and figured out how to take a backseat more often. Part of the reason he was so involved (not saying it was right) was because Tom Higgins was never truly ownership's GUY. They were divided over who should be in charge from Day 1. That's why they came up with that haywire succession plan with Higgins and Denny Creehan. When they realized Creehan would never be the guy, Jim Barker received more authority and Hellard felt the need to be more involved. The structure was a joke from that first day and too many people were involved in major football matters. No one was innocent — Higgins, Hellard, Barker, Creehan, assistants, owners — but to point one finger is naive and irresponsible. Very interesting story in tomorrow's Herald about Henry Burris' opinion of Stamps' matters.
• According to several people, the decision not to play Burris in Winnipeg came from above Higgins' head. There was a feeling that two games in five days were too much and they wanted to protect their investment. To me, it was the wrong move. But Burris not playing the season finale in Vancouver was Higgins' choice.
• How did I know in June that Hufnagel would be hired after Grey Cup? He would have hired in February of 2005 if he was available. People don't realize how deep his connections are with some members of the ownership group (another reason their talks with him don't seem so unethical — some of the guys actually are his friends). At the time, there was a dream goal of hiring him a few years down the road if they had an opening/opportunity and he was available. It was a collision course, destined to happen. I don't believe Higgins' stock within the club has ever been through the rafters and he's always been somewhat on the bubble. If they won a Grey Cup this year, maybe he would have been given a football-type job in the front office. Since they didn't, he was totally expendable.
• A lot of people have commented on Higgins' class and I completely agree. However, talk of his class and sympathy for Higgins have gone a tad overboard. And he would agree. On Thursday, while he appreciated the fact people cared and respected him, you could see he was so frustrated and fed up with the pity he was receiving. People might think he's a rube — he hides masterfully behind platitudes and smiles — but he's a very astute guy. He saw everything shaking down for months.
• Signing free agents ... someone asked about going and getting some big-name free agents in the off-season. That's the wrong way to go. Look at the B.C. Lions ... is there anyone on their roster who was a big-name free agent? Dave Dickenson and no one else. Most free agents they signed were happily discarded by other teams and arrived with little to no fanfare. Their roster (most winning CFL rosters) was build on a Canadian nucleus and good US scouting.
Hope I answered some of your questions. There's MUCH more to a lot of those issues, but those are the Coles notes responses. Please feel free to follow them up. Cheers.