VANCOUVER — Geroy Simon was scheduled to play golf on Thursday, not that he had any great desire despite a respectable 17-handicap. Instead, as a director of Canadian university scouting and player personnel assistant with the B.C. Lions, it was expected.
That is until he realized there was a conflict in his schedule, something about being inducted into the B.C. Football Hall of Fame.
Simon is busy these days as he approaches his 42nd birthday on Monday. Along with evaluating CIS players, he serves as a personnel scout and talent evaluator. He mentors players as an unofficial assistant coach, helps formulate the 44-man roster each week and represents the organization as an ambassador, attending golf tournaments and shaking hands when necessary. He’s in his third year as a member of the Lions’ football operations staff after beginning as a player-business developmental adviser.
“I do a little bit of everything,” said the Lions’ all-time leading receiver, although he’s had to curtail his travel schedule since the sudden death of his wife, Tracy, on April 30, leaving him to raise their two teenage children alone.
That Simon remained in the game upon his retirement in 2014 is hardly a surprise. One of the Canadian Football League’s greatest receivers, he retired after 237 games having caught 1,029 passes for 16,352 yards along with 103 touchdowns over 15 seasons, the majority spent with B.C. He’s the league’s career leader in yards by a receiver — a total that likely will never be surpassed — was named the most outstanding player in 2006 and will be inducted into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame next week. He won three Grey Cups and was a six-time league all-star.
“I always had plans for him in the future,” said Wally Buono, the Lions’ general manager and head coach — and the man responsible for trading Simon to Saskatchewan in 2013, his final season as a player.
“He’s always been a very smart player. He’s always been a leader in the locker room and on the field. He’s always been very grounded. He’s level-headed,” Buono continued. “He was very much involved. You could see he was a no-nonsense person. People who have a love for the game, it transcends beyond their playing career.”
With Buono, 67, committed to his dual role only until the end of this season — but under contract to owner David Braley through 2018 in an undisclosed capacity — it’s natural to connect the dots and assume Simon’s being groomed to replace the Lions’ grand poobah as GM, although he has less experience than Neil McEvoy, the team’s director of football operations and player personnel.
Buono quickly diffused such speculation about Simon, while extolling his virtues.
“I think he has an eye for talent. He’s firm enough and ruthless enough,” Buono said. “You have to be a benevolent dictator. Some decisions are going to be brutal and you can’t be afraid. I see those things in Geroy. He’s not afraid. When I ask him his opinion, it’s bang, bang, bang. At times, he has no mercy at all. I’m not saying that’s good or bad. He’s not afraid to give his opinion. He’s not afraid to stand out there. He’s done a good job.”
Simon displays the same swagger at the management level he possessed as a star athlete. He proclaims, without hesitation, he’s ready to be a GM, but added that so much detail and organization goes into the position.
“It’s like putting together a puzzle. You have to find the right pieces and put them in the right places,” he explained. “That’s the goal, to be a GM, to have my own team. I think there are some expectations for me, but I also have my own expectations and my own way of doing things. I sit and watch and learn. I’m learning how, and how not to, do things as a leader of an organization. I’m creating my own niche and my own way of doing things.”
Simon has come to quickly realize any successful GM can’t do it alone and doesn’t have all the answers. He must be surrounded by colleagues who can handle scouting, personnel and salary-cap issues. But he also understands the sum can only be as good as the parts, that it takes the horses to lead a team to a championship.
“The most intriguing thing is putting together a team, trying to get these guys going in the right direction to accomplish a winning season and a championship,” he said. “The hard part is knowing I knew how to do that as a player. … Being on this side, I can’t actively do it.
“The challenge is letting these guys figure it out on their own. It’s on them. You give them the tools to be successful, but it’s up to them to use those tools. If not, you have to move on from a player. That’s definitely a tough part of the job, letting a player go. I just try to be as honest and direct as possible and give them the information.”
The words might be coming from Simon, but the same phrases have been uttered by Buono for years. It’s clear Simon learned at the feet of the master, inheriting many of his traits and mannerisms.
“I just enjoyed being on the other side of football,” he explained. “Football’s the thing that made me feel like I was accomplishing something.”
Photo Courtesy of the BC Lions