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John DeShazier: Dan 'Chief' Simmons retiring as a champion

He will still be involved with Saints alumni/legends program

"You'll still see me," Dan Simmons said, "just not every day."

Like heck we won't.

After 42 years as the head equipment manager of the New Orleans Saints, "Chief," the longest-tenured Saints employee, is a thread that comprises the fabric that is the franchise. So despite his imminent retirement – he's scheduled to retire Tuesday, March 31 – there's no doubt that his mannerisms, teachings and voice still will echo throughout the training facility and locker room, and will show up on the sideline every game with the team.

"I told Dan he was too young to retire," Saints owner Tom Benson said.

"Looking back at all the people that have gone through this organization, I've been fortunate to last all those years," Simmons said. "I've had a lot of guys that have worked for me, and I've had some coaches that have been here come through twice. I've even had some of my student managers, or ball boys, gone on to become head coaches in the NFL. It's really meant a lot. I've met a lot of great people since I've been here.

"I've had a lot of the coaches, when I first started, some coaches like Hank Stram, Bum Phillips, Dick Nolan – those guys were really great coaches and good to work for. It's funny – we just went to an NFL Equipment Manager meeting over in Houston (with assistant equipment manager John Baumgartner and equipment assistant Corey Gaudet). You start feeling how old you are when I get some of these guys asking me, 'Did you know Bum Phillips? Did you know Hank Stram?' Like they couldn't believe it.

"I have started reflecting on it some, especially at this meeting that we just went to. When I looked around the room there and saw all the young guys now in the league, and I go to start telling a story and I'm thinking, 'My gosh, nobody knows who I'm talking about.' They might've heard about some of these guys, especially some of the 'legend' equipment managers that I grew up with. A lot of the guys now, they don't have a clue who I'm talking about."

But in New Orleans, if you don't know or haven't heard of Chief – the only employee to reach the 42-year mark since the team's founding in 1967 – then it's likely that you don't know much about the Saints.

"Dan has been a great worker and friend," Coach Sean Payton said. "We will miss him dearly. Both he and his wife, Elaine, have touched many lives in a special way."

"I could go on and on about Chief," Saints General Manager Mickey Loomis said. "You talk about a guy that has meant a lot to our franchise, long before I was ever involved with it, and has the respect and the admiration of everyone I think that's been in contact with him.

"I've heard from players from 40 years ago: What can I do to help Chief? What can I do to honor him? All these sorts of comments reflect what a great job he has done for us and how much the people that he has taken care of, care for him."

Simmons was hired on April 1, 1973. The prior two years, he worked as an assistant equipment manager to his father, Bill, with the St. Louis Cardinals (Bill was St. Louis' equipment manager for 22 years).

"We had a former coach that was with the Cardinals – Jim Champion was the defensive line coach – he came to work for the Saints and they were without an equipment manager," Simmons said. "He called my dad in St. Louis and asked if I would be interested in coming down here as equipment manager. (Bill Simmons) said, 'Well, I think he is.' And I've been here ever since.

"I couldn't coach," he said, laughing. "I wasn't going to do that. I enjoyed (working with his father). I was fortunate, I really was, to be able to work for him. I'd gotten out of the service (after four years in the United States Navy) and was going to school (Meramec College in St. Louis) and I worked for my dad part-time. And I really liked it."

Fortunately for the Saints, it was a like that quickly developed into a love of the franchise. And, apparently, there was reciprocity.

Since 1973, the Saints have had 11 full-time and interim head coaches (excluding the 2012 season, when Aaron Kromer and Joe Vitt split the duties while Payton was suspended). However, Chief's job status remained rock solid.

"I guess there's always that concern," he said. "I never thought about leaving, I really didn't, unless I was forced to – especially nowadays, with the coaching changes. Back then, you'd get a coach and lot of them would stay here for a several years. But now, with the turnovers that you have – it used to not affect the staff like the trainers or equipment guys. But you see that more so nowadays than you did back then."

What the public may see more in the future, is Simmons. He has been behind the scenes for virtually all his career but in retirement, will have an opportunity to step out from behind the curtain a bit more.

First, he has an invitation to view a Saints game from an unfamiliar vantage point, courtesy of an invitation from team owner Tom Benson.

"He's been fantastic," Simmons said of Benson. "He stopped by the equipment room the other day after lunch, stuck his head in the equipment room and asked to see me and he said, 'I just want you to know, I want you to come back here and go to some games. I don't want you to be a stranger. I want you to come up there and sit in my box with me and watch a game.'

"That's something in 42 years I've never done, sit in a box suite and watch a ballgame."

Second, Simmons will segue into another role with the franchise.

"I have the opportunity now, thanks to (Saints senior vice president of communications) Greg Bensel and Mickey, to be involved with the legends alumni, and working in that program. I'm really looking forward to it, especially getting back and getting in touch with a lot of the old players that I've known. It'll be good to see them again and get involved and do some things with them.

"I think the first thing is to get them all together. Compile a list and find them, because these guys are scattered all over the place. The league has a lot of programs going on now with the alumni/legends – get them involved and let them know what's available, what the league is offering.

"Try to get more of them to come in town, come to Saints practices, go to games. Our 50th anniversary is coming up in 2017 – see about getting some of the guys off that '67 team to come back and maybe have a special weekend for them."

Said Benson: "I am glad that he will get to spend more time with his family, and even though he is retiring from the equipment department, we still have him on our board handling our alumni. I don't think in my 60-plus years owning businesses that I have met someone as loyal and accountable as Dan has been to the New Orleans Saints. He is a very large part of our success."

Loomis said it's a mixed reaction to Simmons retiring.

"It's just not the same when you come to work and he won't be there, because that hasn't happened," Loomis said. "But it's exciting to see one guy be with a franchise that long and be able to retire on his own terms. He's seen everything there is to see with an NFL franchise. We're going to count on him, he's going to take on another role for us and he's the perfect guy for that."

For now, the special attention will be placed on the low-key Simmons. Understated to the end, he took a cue from a Hall of Fame, former Saints general manager.

"Jim Finks, in talking to him years ago, he said just hire good people, give them some direction and let them do their job," Simmons said. "And that's kind of been my motto. In my 42 years I've really been fortunate to have great assistants that worked for me. It certainly makes this job a lot easier."

Simmons, who estimates he has missed three or four days of work, likely has made it look easier than it was.

The purchase, upkeep and repair of all equipment and uniforms for the players and coaches, the transportation of that equipment for road trips and training camp and the daily practice field arrangement simply may appear to be words to the casual observer. But in truth, it's a massive undertaking that Simmons perfected.

The transition to a more leisurely stroll – he wakes at 4:30 a.m.; a friend joked that Simmons now would be able to "sleep in" until 6 – will be accompanied by his wife, who helped Simmons maintain balance during the Saints' lean years.

"She was encouraging and it makes a difference if you don't have an opportunity to go someplace else," he said. "But when we ended up going to the Super Bowl, that was quite the deal."

The Saints' 31-17 victory over Indianapolis in Super Bowl XLIV, of course, remains the on-field highlight of Simmons' career.

"It really was (emotional), especially with my assistant then, (Glennon) Silky (Powell), who had been there with me all those years," Simmons said. "He was here for 38 years and to be with him on that day in Miami was something special."

That day, the Saints were champions. Simmons remains one, and will retire that way.

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