TORONTO - Tom Higgins has never served as a football referee but does bring an official's perspective to his new role as the CFL's director of officiating.

Higgins was an All-American linebacker at North Carolina State University but also was a member of the school's wrestling team. He has donned the stripes to officiate American university wrestling matches as well as high school competitions in Canada.

"You need to actually put on an official's jersey, an official's shirt, to realize how difficult it is," Higgins said Tuesday during a conference call. "To me, wrestling is very black and white. If you take an athlete down you award him two points.

"But it's amazing that you can't please anybody. I always marvel at the fact that people would actually want to officiate."

Higgins, 53, a two-time winner of the CFL's coach of the year, was named to the post Tuesday. He takes over from George Black, who will remain with the CFL as senior adviser of football operations. Higgins will officially start his new role April 28.

Higgins brings a long and well-rounded resume to the CFL's head office. He has spent 26 seasons in the league as a player, personnel director and head coach with both Edmonton and Calgary. In 2003, he led the Eskimos to a Grey Cup championship.

He spent seven seasons as a head coach with Edmonton and Calgary before being fired last year by the Stampeders.

During his time on the sidelines, Higgins was regarded as a gentleman. As is typical of most coaches, Higgins could be seen during games having in-depth discussions with officials, but he said Tuesday he never uttered a comment he wished he could take back.

And that's in keeping with the character of a man who many CFL media members affectionately dubbed Ned Flanders after the clean-living character on the popular cartoon series, "The Simpsons."

But this marks his first venture in the world of football officiating, and Higgins said he plans to lean heavily on Black, the longtime CFL official who took over the director's job four years ago.

"I see George having a very, very heavy role in helping the recruitment and development of officials in the CIS and junior programs and across the country as well as how to operate the league office from Toronto," Higgins said.

Michael Copeland, the CFL's chief operating officer, said Higgins brings a unique quality to the top officiating job.

"He is a consummate leader, a consummate motivator and I think he can be a real champion for what we like to call the third team on the field," he said. "We didn't hire Tom as a coach, we hired Tom for all the experience and intangibles that he has and Tom represented the best fit for the role.

"The role reaches well beyond technical expertise. It requires strategic planning and administrative skill, it requires someone who can motivate and recruit the next generation of officials. It requires someone who can manage the often-times harsh communications from the club, of which Tom would have had first-hand knowledge of that . . . and turn that communication into a constructive process and that is a unique perspective Tom brings."

Higgins will be responsible for the recruitment, training, development and evaluation of the CFL's officiating staff and will be based out of the league's head office.

Higgins said he has definite plans for the CFL's officiating department, both immediately as well as within the next five years. Higgins likes the idea of the league following in the footsteps of the NFL and NHL, which have both established command centres manned by league personnel that help their officials in the field with such things as instant replay.

"I'd like to think there's the possibility of instituting a CFL command centre," he said. "Every game would come in and you have an opportunity to look at it, it gets catalogued and logged and then so that's where you're very proactive.

"The NFL has one already so I think within five years there's no reason why we necessarily can't have one."

But Higgins said increasing the current talent pool of CFL officials remains a top priority.

This season will mark the first time since 2001 that Higgins won't be on the sidelines. Higgins wouldn't say if he'll ever return to coaching, adding he's doing the job he wants to be doing.

"This is where I want to be right now and I don't really care about looking too far in the future," Higgins said. "If this goes the way I think it can go I'd like for me to stay there for a two-to-five year plan and institute those things.

"I'm extremely excited about the challenge and the opportunity."

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