One word comes to mind when I reflect back on the one year that Phillip Sims, now academically ineligible, spent as a member of Virginia’s football team.
“Distraction,” is the best way to describe it.
Few people would have suggested that UVa’s football program was making a mistake when it agreed to take Sims as a transfer from Alabama. How do you say “no” to arguably the best high-school quarterback produced by the state?
But, there were issues from the start, most notably the return of a quarterback, Michael Rocco, who had passed for 2,671 yards and 13 touchdowns for a team that went to the 2011 Chick-fil-A Bowl and finished 8-5.
The Cavaliers also had two promising young quarterbacks, David Watford and Greyson Lambert. Both were January enrollees, Watford in 2011 and Lambert in 2012, and Watford had played in 10 games as Rocco’s back-up in 2011.
The Cavaliers were set at quarterback. But, if you’ve got a shot at Phillip Sims, how do you not take him?
Maybe the worst thing that could have happened for the 2012 UVa team, in terms of stability at the quarterback, came when Sims was successful in his appeal for instant eligibility. His waiver request was based on an illness in his family and the need to be closer to his south Hampton Roads home.
As soon as the waiver was granted, it was instant quarterback controversy.
Many felt that Sims taking over for Rocco would be a no-brainer. Others felt that Rocco’s 2012 performance made him the clear-cut choice. The staff was high on Watford and Lambert and didn’t want them to get discouraged.
Fortunately, Watford had a redshirt year at his disposal. However, as a 4-8 season came to a conclusion and Rocco and Sims both had remaining eligibility — two years in Sims’ case — what hope was there for Watford?
If Rocco had not walked into coach Mike London’s office and asked for a release one week after the season, I’m not sure Watford would have lasted till Christmas before making a similar request.
Many on the outside were caught by surprise when Watford and Lambert were listed 1-2 on the pre-spring depth chart and Sims was No. 3, but, internally, no one was shocked. Sims wasn’t taking care of business in the classroom and there were rumors that he was missing team meetings, film sessions, etc. — some optional, some mandatory.
When he talked to reporters throughout the fall, Sims came across as articulate, insightful and accommodating. It was easy to picture him as a team leader and there were no outward indications that he wasn’t.
Maybe things would have been different if he hadn’t received the waiver, both for Sims and for the team. Just as delicate was the transfer process, seeing as Sims had gone through spring ball at Alabama.
Virginia announced May 2 that Sims had been accepted as a transfer. By the next month, he was enrolled in summer school, trying to get on solid ground academically while working on the waiver and trying to learn his third offensive system in three years.
Most of Virginia’s recruits arrive on grounds in the summer before their freshman year and get a head start by taking 2-3 courses while acclimating themselves to the school. Sims didn’t have that luxury and who knows what kind of academic profile he had at Alabama? He seemingly was playing catch-up from the start at UVa.
In some ways, Sims’ departure could be a blessing in disguise (or no disguise). If you had told the UVa coaches at season’s end that they could keep only two of the quarterbacks in the program at that time, it might have been Watford and Lambert.
UVa has gone from a potential seven scholarship quarterbacks in the program to four. Watford will be a sophomore, Lambert and Matt Johns will be redshirt freshmen and signee Brendan Marshall will be a true freshman.
Another signee, Corwin “Turtle” Cutler, has said he will spend the fall at Fork Union Military Academy in order to work on his grades. Cutler sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament during his senior year at Ocean Lakes High School, so his playing status is problematic.
Marshall probably will be redshirted this season, which leaves Johns as the probable No. 3. It’s unlikely he felt too confident about his future as the offseason set in, but now he’s going to be the holder and as one wag suggested, “He’s the only quarterback who knows he’s going to be on the field.”
I haven’t spoken to Rocco about this latest development but he’s got other issues, including an NCAA ruling that will prevent him from playing at Richmond until 2014. His competition at that point could include one-time UVa teammate Michael Strauss, but Rocco is no stranger to soap operas.