Simon Gelan a Bears' behind-the-scenes MVP
Story by Larry Mayer
Simon Gelan has never thrown a touchdown pass, received a standing ovation or conducted a press conference. But the 39-year-old nevertheless is one of the most valuable members of the Bears organization.
As the club's director of team logistics and business processes liaison, Gelan works with virtually every department in Halas Hall. His responsibilities range from home game operations to team travel to budgeting and master planning, syncing the football and business sides of the building.
"My job is to be a leader in the background," said Gelan, who's been in his current position since 2019. "My job's not to be in the forefront. It's more about being able to be a resource, a problem solver and a support system for the players, coaches and staff."
One thing that Gelan loves most about his job is that it's different every day. He might spend one day setting up charter flights to road games, the next going over a calendar with general manager Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus and the next preparing for the Bears to host training camp at Halas Hall.
"Every day in operations is different," Gelan said. "There's never one day similar to the next. Every day is a new day. Every day there's an enthusiasm for an opportunity to improve and be a part of something new. That's what entices me about operations."
“I remember my wife once asked me, ‘What’s your favorite part of the job?’ I always say it’s when players take the field right before the game starts, because you know that in some form or fashion, that the Team Logistics Department helped in the process.” Simon Gelan
With different tasks, each day also brings different challenges. One example came last season when the Bears were boarding buses to head to O'Hare Airport on a road trip. A maintenance issue forced the team to switch planes and Gelan spent the drive from Halas Hall to O'Hare on his phone with a United Airlines representative feverishly rearranging seat assignments.
One of the most daunting tasks Gelan faces comes in the spring when he's entrusted with organizing and planning team travel logistics for all home and road games. Those components include air/ground transportation, lodging accommodations and trucking of equipment.
Before the schedule is released, Gelan narrows a field of hotels in each city the Bears are slated to visit from about 20 to four or five. He selects the hotels based on what the head coach and GM are seeking in terms of meeting space, security, quality of the property and location.
Once the schedule is announced, it's go time. He calls the hotels that have made the cut to inquire about availability and rates for rooms, meeting spaces and food. After negotiations have concluded, he then shares that information with the GM and head coach for a final decision.
Gelan's main objective is the same whether he's working with Poles, Eberflus, trainer Andre Tucker, equipment manager Tony Medlin, vice president Paul Neurauter or senior vice presidents Scott Hagel, Karen Murphy, Cliff Stein, Lee Twarling and Tanesha Wade.
"I'm helping to support them to make sure that those individuals have everything they need to be successful," Gelan said.
Accomplishing that objective is very rewarding to Gelan.
"I remember my wife once asked me, 'What's your favorite part of the job?'" he said. "I always say it's when players take the field right before the game starts, because you know that in some form or fashion, that the Team Logistics Department helped in the process."
Road to the NFL
Gelan is actually in his second stint with the Bears. He spent the 2008 season as an intern in the equipment department after graduating with a degree in sports administration from Morgan State University, an HBCU (Historically Black College/University) in Baltimore.
"Simon was one of those kids if you asked him to do anything, he would do it," recalled Medlin, the Bears' equipment manager since 1997. "He would be the early guy, the late guy. He was almost one of those kids you would have to run home.
"He was always respectful. He would just give it his all. You didn't have to explain it three or four times. He didn't care what the job was. It could be the worst job or the best job; it didn't matter. He would just do what you would tell him and if he needed to go beyond, he would. It's hard to find good people like that."
As a student at Morgan State, Gelan gained valuable experience working in the equipment department for all of the school's sports teams.
"When you go to a small I-AA school, you are a jack-of-all-trades," he said. "You might be helping upstairs, might be helping in the equipment room. I kind of did a little bit of everything."
Throughout his time in college, Gelan applied for internships with NFL teams. He received nothing but rejection letters until his senior year when he was hired by the 49ers to spend the summer working in their equipment department.
"It was one of the most eye-opening experiences I've ever had," Gelan said. "Just getting on a plane, going from Maryland all the way across the country to San Francisco, wearing a suit and tie, it was just something that [usually] doesn't happen to me."
“Being a part of an organization, being able to go on the field for the first time and see 60,000 fans screaming and yelling, just the whole operation of putting things together really resonated with me.” Simon Gelan
After landing the job, Gelan was driven to the airport for his flight to San Francisco by his boss at Morgan State, equipment manager Arno Adams.
"I was nervous in the car," Gelan said. "I was like, 'I don't know how I'm going to do. I've never done this before. I don't know how to tie a tie.' So, he tied my tie and I remember he told me, 'You can do anything you want to do. You just have to have the determination and the will to do it.'"
Gelan possessed both of those attributes—and immediately fell in love with the job.
"From that point forward, I never thought about anything else than being in the NFL," he said. "Being a part of an organization, being able to go on the field for the first time and see 60,000 fans screaming and yelling, just the whole operation of putting things together really resonated with me."
Same goal, different role
Gelan's desire to work in the NFL never changed. But his career path shifted slightly in 2009 when he moved from the equipment department to operations.
He left pro football briefly, accepting an operations position with D.C. United in Major League Soccer to expand his horizons and gain experience in his new field. He returned to the NFL about six months later, working in operations for the Ravens in 2009-10 and the Browns from 2010-19 before joining the Bears.
"I just thought there were so many synergies between being in the equipment room and being in operations, and I really wanted to see the other side," Gelan said. "You're planning, you're executing, you're problem solving. And you're not just looking at today. You're looking at a month from now, you're looking at six months and you're able to plan everything from making sure that everything's ready on the field for practice to making sure we're ready for a trip."
"Simon’s a unicorn ... He can do things that most can’t. Whether it’s a small task or a task that may be impossible for some, he finds a way to get it done and he goes above and beyond." Bears head athletic trainer Andre Tucker
Tucker, the Bears' trainer, worked with Gelan with the Browns from 2010-18.
"People asked me [about Gelan] when [the Bears] were looking to potentially have him come here and work with us in operations and I just flat-out said, 'Simon's a unicorn,'" Tucker said. "They're like, 'What do you mean by that?' I said: 'He can do things that most can't. Whether it's a small task or a task that may be impossible for some, he finds a way to get it done and he goes above and beyond.' He has done that for me many times, whether it's personal or professional.
"Our departments work pretty close together and there have been situations where we may be caught in a bind and I know talking to him, between the two of us, we typically come up with a solution—and there may be things that I didn't even think of that he was able to come up with that essentially made everything efficient for us."
One example might be if Gelan is informed at the last minute that a player needs an ice bath the night before a road game.
"If Simon's room had a tub and the player's room didn't, Simon's giving up his room," Tucker said. "That's the type of professionalism that he has. Problem solving I would say is above and beyond."
Strong support system
One theme throughout Gelan's life has been the importance of family.
"My mom and dad always strived for me to do more, and then as I've gotten older, it's kind of rubbed off on me," Gelan said. "As a child, you don't always know what you don't know, and sometimes it takes somebody guiding you. I have kids now and you hope that some of what you teach them rubs off in terms of being persistent and hard-working."
As an adult, Gelan has leaned on his wife, Lywanda, and their daughters, Camille, 14, and Savannah, 6.
"A lot of my success is not about me," he said. "It's more about my family support; my wife being able to move and my kids being able to sacrifice, whether it's going to a new school or making new friends. They're the driving force for me being able to do my job to the best of my ability. Without them, I couldn't do my job. I have a strong support system. They're so supportive and so immersed in making me be the best."
Lywanda is proud of what her husband has accomplished with the Bears and feels that his greatest strength is his determination.
"He's never going to stop," she said. "He's always going to work until he gets things right and that it's done the way it's supposed to be done."