For 15 years, Geroy Simon was the CFL’s Superman, striking a pose every time he made it into the endzone. Since he first crossed the 49th parallel in 2002, Chris Jones has been more akin to Lex Luthor, though far less follicly-challenged.
The defensive evil genius provided a fitting foil to Simon’s high-flying hero for more than a decade, but now the two will be fighting the good fight side-by-side in the front office of the Edmonton Elks.
At first glance, it appears that the former rivals would make odd bedfellows, with the gruff Jones almost the antithesis to the charming Hall of Fame receiver. However, each of their individual successes in the CFL indicates a shared uncommon drive, something the pair bonded over long before Jones made his triumphant return as Elks’ general manager and head coach.
Luring Simon away from the B.C. Lions to be his assistant general manager was not just a move of necessity, it was the plan all along and an offer that Simon simply couldn’t refuse.
“Coming to Edmonton was a great opportunity for me to advance my career, get with a guy who’s a proven winner and someone who I believe in his philosophy and how he coaches and how he wants to build a team,” Simon said during his first appearance in front of the media as a member of the Elks organization.
“I’ve been friends with Chris for a long time. We have a lot of mutual friends and as a player, I played against him and played against his defences and always thought that he did a great job of putting together teams and defences to be very successful.”
Simon, who was also interviewed for the Elks’ open general manager spot by his former head coach and Edmonton’s consultant Wally Buono, first broke into the personnel side of football in 2014 as an area scout with the Saskatchewan Roughriders. He returned to Vancouver to work for the B.C. Lions the next year, quickly rising through the ranks of the same organization where he set all-time receiving records to become their director of Global scouting and U.S. regional scout.
With a crowded Lions front office that includes head coach Rick Campbell, co-GM Neil McEvoy and assistant GM Ryan Rigmaiden, it had become clear that Simon would need to once again leave the organization to take the next step in his career.
He’s done that by joining Jones in Edmonton, but this wasn’t a move driven by resentment for not being promoted on the West Coast. While it no doubt came with Buono’s stamp of approval, the CFL’s all-time winningest coach was not the catalyst either. This was about a deep and rarely spoken of mutual respect developed behind the scenes between he and Jones, who had long provided him guidance on his career journey.
“He’s a guy that I talked to often, even when we were on opposing teams, when I got on this side of the business. We talked years ago when he was with Cleveland. He’s a guy that I’ve always looked at as someone who did a great job and once I got into the scouting and personnel side of it, he was the guy that I always bounced ideas off of,” Simon explained.
“He gave me some great advice and we just continually were in conversation over the years. Once he got the job and he got the opportunity to speak to me, it was almost a no-brainer for me to come and work with him.”
It was a no-brainer for the Elks organization as well, bringing in someone who can not only take some of the load off of Jones’ already heaping plate, but also be a public face in the community. That’s been an emphasis for Simon everywhere he’s been and will be again.
“We need fans, we need good people coming into the stadium and cheering us on,” he said. “We have the duty to spread a positive message about the organization and where we’re going.”
That’s desperately needed in Edmonton, but Superman will do more than shake hands and take selfies. He’s there to help do the dirty work that he has long-admired in his Luthorian counterpart for a brick-by-brick rebuild that has already begun in earnest.
“The main thing is building a roster that we feel gives us the best opportunity to not only win games, but to win championships,” Simon emphasized.
“Chris isn’t one to wait around and see what happens, he’s a forward-thinking guy. He has a plan and the first thing is to start looking at the roster, start looking at free agency, start looking at the things that we need to do to help this roster turn things around.”
Some of those things won’t be pleasant and Jones’ reputation for cut-throat dealings may take a little shine off the ‘S’ on Simon’s chest, but that won’t matter if they execute the turn-around.
Nobody cares if Superman teams up with Lex Luthor, as long as he helps save the world in the end.