After months of silence with a widely expected transfer oddly never coming to fruition, the long-anticipated departure of Phillip Sims finally became official yesterday afternoon. He released a statement through UA, and the reasoning he gave for the transfer is as indicated below, per the Tuscaloosa News:
"The reason for me leaving is nothing more than a personal matter. I just need to be closer to home to support my family at this time and that needs to be my priority right now," Sims added. "I would still like to continue my football career, and hopefully I can do that and also be there for my family."
I've emphasized the most relevant passage regarding the reasoning allegedly behind the transfer, and you can take that for what you wish. Personally, though, I would pay it no mind. Clearly Sims will be applying for a waiver from the NCAA allowing him to play immediately this fall without having to sit out a year, regardless of where he ultimately transfers -- with a school in his native state of Virginia being the likely destination -- and generic references to personal issues relating to the family have become commonplace in recent years as players try to increase their chances of being granted waivers. However, all the references to personal matters notwithstanding, I think it can safely be assumed that Sims would not be leaving Tuscaloosa if he was slated to be the starting quarterback next season.
Moving beyond motives, perhaps what first jumps out about this development is the strange timing. Aside from the fact that this announcement comes on the one-year anniversary of the April 27, 2011 tornadoes -- just a tad bit tone-deaf on that one, Phillip, though surely it was unintentional -- this is very odd timing in that it is happening so late in the process. It was exceedingly clear after the BCS National Championship Game that AJ McCarron had permanently cemented his status as the unquestioned starter at the quarterback position at Alabama throughout the remainder of his collegiate career. If Sims was going to transfer, the ideal timing would have been immediately after returning from New Orleans, which would have given him the benefit of going through spring practice with his new-found program and having additional time to acclimate himself to his new scheme. Instead, Sims essentially returned for a lame-duck three month period with a now-former school, which certainly will make it more difficult for him to play at a high level this fall if he is in fact granted a waiver by the NCAA.
In terms of Sims as a player, I think his departure largely has to be chalked up to bad luck more than anything else. If he were forced into action, Sims likely would not be a bona fide star, but based upon his physical skill set and his performances in limited action it is reasonable to believe the he would play the quarterback position at a relatively high level. Frankly, he would have beaten out just about any other starting quarterback that Alabama has put on the field in the post-Bryant era, but he didn't have the luxury of weaker competition. The problem becomes the quality of the surrounding roster: Nick Saban arrives, the overall talent pool spikes tremendously, and suddenly incoming recruits are no longer competing for playing time against the Andrew Zows or the John Parker Wilsons of the world. It's a far more challenging competitive environment, and the real world by-product is that occasionally some quality players cannot get on the field. Sims was just one of those players.
In any event, this is largely a development that has been expected for long time. As we wrote numerous times on RBR the past two years, it was obvious when both McCarron and Sims matriculated to the Capstone that in all likelihood one would win the starting job while the other would transfer, and so it has indeed come to pass. Only one quarterback can meaningfully play the position, and neither signed to watch from the sideline as a spectator, and in many ways it's surprising that it took as long as it did for one of the two to head for the exits.
For better or for worse, in the wake of Sims' departure Alabama now becomes perilously thin in terms of quality depth at the quarterback position. With Sims on the roster, 'Bama could have largely weathered an injury to AJ McCarron, but now the reins will be turned over to redshirt freshman Phillip Ely, and while Ely had a relatively respectable spring, few legitimately expect him to be able to lead Alabama to victory this fall against high-quality opponents. He was signed as a long-term developmental project, and that does not change based upon a sudden dearth of quality depth in front of him.
If McCarron can stay healthy this upcoming season then Sims' departure becomes a complete non-issue, but if McCarron goes down for any meaningful period of time against a quality opponent, Alabama can likely put to rest any hopes of a championship. Harsh truth: we're not going to Baton Rouge and taking down LSU with Phillip Ely under center.
Finally, Alabama now has to step up efforts to find a long-term replacement for McCarron, and with only two developmental projects currently on the roster (the aforementioned Ely and the incoming Alec Morris) that will involve short-term activity on the recruiting trails. 'Bama has recruited several quarterbacks heavily in the 2013 recruiting class, but a lack of potential for early playing time has clearly been a problem to date. With Sims out of the picture, however, now Alabama can now legitimately sell 2013 quarterback recruits on the potential to start in 2014 as a second-year player, so expect recruit interest to pick up heavily with several quarterback prospects in the coming months.