For this Sims has no one to blame but himself. The school announced Friday that he’s ineligible and will no longer be enrolled after completing the current summer term.
A statement from coach Mike London was harsh and true:
“The thing we tell the young men who come to the University of Virginia to receive a world-class education and play for our football program is pretty simple. Go to class. Show class and treat people with dignity and respect. Those directions are pretty easy to follow and they will lead you on a path of success.
“When an individual strays from those directions, it is very disappointing to me. Phillip Sims did not make the commitment he needed to succeed here. I appreciate his efforts last season. He is a very talented young man who is blessed with some extraordinary athletic abilities. I still believe Phillip Sims can and will be a successful person. We will do what we can to assist Phillip in continuing his academic and athletic opportunities elsewhere.”
Sims’ shortcomings weren’t limited to the classroom. Arguably the program’s most gifted quarterback, and certainly its most acclaimed, Sims dodged the grueling conditioning and tape study that define the best at his position.
That lethargy contrasted sharply with teammates such as fellow quarterback David Watford, a weight room and meeting room staple even as he redshirted last season while Sims and Michael Rocco shared snaps.
Like Watford (Hampton High), Sims hails from Hampton Roads, and after setting state passing records at Chesapeake’s Oscar Smith High, Sims entertained scholarship offers from programs such as Georgia, Florida State, Clemson, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Tennessee and West Virginia. He chose Alabama, but after a redshirt year he played sparingly behind A.J. McCarron during the Crimson Tide’s 2011 national championship season.
That same year, Rocco, then a sophomore, helped Virginia to an 8-5 record and Chick-fil-A Bowl appearance. London was ACC coach of the year, and his roster was stocked at quarterback with Rocco, Watford and 2012 signee Greyson Lambert.
But given Sims’ Virginia roots and undeniable talents, when he decided to transfer, London took the bait. Sure, it threatened that ever-elusive concept of team chemistry and figured to clog the depth chart, but it’s not as if the Cavaliers were returning an All-ACC quarterback – Rocco was effective, occasionally exceptional, but too often prone to gruesome mistakes.
Virginia not only accepted Sims as a transfer but also helped him petition for immediate eligibility due to his father’s health issues – the NCAA requires most transfers to sit out a season. So Sims entered training camp last August with three years remaining and anointed by many as the likely starter.
Didn’t happen. Worse for the Cavaliers, his presence and London’s clumsy juggling of the position unnerved Rocco, the incumbent. Rocco started eight games, Sims four, but neither was consistently serviceable.
Sims’ numbers: Playing in all 12 games, he completed 114-of-203 passes for nine touchdowns and 1,263 yards. He threw four interceptions and, perhaps most telling, often seemed rattled by blitzes. Were Sims a more attentive student of his position, those rushing linebackers wouldn’t have been quite the distraction.
Not coincidentally, Virginia cratered to its second 4-8 record in London’s three years as head coach. Moreover, shortly after the season ended with a 17-14 loss at Virginia Tech, Rocco, whose late interception set up the Hokies’ winning field goal, transferred to Richmond, where his uncle, Danny Rocco, is the head coach.
Again, many projected Sims the starter, and clearly Rocco’s departure removed a hurdle. But that assumption ignored Sims’ dubious work habits, which, sources said, declined further after Rocco transferred.
Sims’ departure leaves Watford and Lambert as the program’s top quarterbacks. Watford completed only 30-of-74 passes as a true freshman in 2011; Lambert has never played in a college game.
Not to pile on Sims. He’s likable, glib and quick to smile. We keyboard jockeys certainly appreciated his unfiltered answers to our questions, some of which probably didn’t sit well with him.
But Sims, like many, never seemed to grasp that mad skills don’t suffice, that particularly in a team endeavor, discipline, commitment and leadership are essential.
Wherever his next destination may be, let’s hope that universal truth dawns on him.
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