The inside slant on how UGA pulled a big-play receiver from Alabama on signing day

Tyler SImmons had a fascinating recruiting story.

When Tyler Simmons flipped from Alabama commitment to UGA signee last month, it was this close.

Simmons said he told the coaches at Alabama he had strong feelings about both schools moments before his decision. They didn’t know and he stated the coaches at UGA really had no idea. What did it come down to? “The school that got me was the school that wanted me the most,” he said.

Why he Simmons chose UGA? Simple. He felt more at home and needed there than he did at Alabama. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

The three-star receiver said Alabama wanted him but he it seemed the coaches at UGA wanted him a shade more than their peers in Tuscaloosa. He also felt more “at home” in Athens.

Those who think they know what really went down in his recruiting will still learn more than the live bulldog UGA brought to his in-home visit, or that trip Smart took flying down the interstate going 100 miles per hour in a state trooper’s car to meet him that night.  

His DawgNation recruiting review has it all: What Lane Kiffin did wrong. What Jim Chaney did right. Negative recruiting. Which five-star recruit made a difference?

There’s so much that went down it makes sense to go rapid-fire with it.

  • Simmons was a silent commit to Alabama for almost two months before he went public with it in January. He committed at the start of the state playoffs.
  • The Simmons family didn’t connect with Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin. When they broached that subject with Nick Saban, Simmons said Kiffin contacted him with a good morning message the next day. Simmons replied, but never heard from Kiffin again until his family addressed it a second time. Kiffin finally came in hard to see him almost every day in the last week. “I’d been committed to Alabama for about two months and during that process I had not talked to Coach Kiffin but maybe once,” Simmons said. “That was on my official where I sat down with him for about 10 minutes.” That was a problem. If he wasn’t talking to Kiffin then, what will it be like at Alabama?
  • Negative recruiting? He didn’t hear much at first, but heard it all at crunch time. Simmons said he heard: 1) UGA receivers coach James Coley had never coached the position before; 2) he won’t get along with the players at Alabama; 3) they won’t play you right away at (insert school here); 4) UGA won’t have an offense; 5) he won’t feel at home at (insert school here) compared to the school pitching him.  
  • Simmons didn’t go to school the day before signing day. He didn’t want see anybody who might influence him and put his phone in airplane mode. Well, until he got a timely phone call from a silent UGA commit.
  • Georgia Tech? Simmons was actually very impressed with that school. (Curtis Compton / AJC) Five-star UGA signee Mecole Hardman, Jr. had a key role on the eve of his decision: “The night before I was driving back home and he was like, ‘Just call me,’ and I’d been knowing Mecole was going to Georgia,” Simmons said. “Now Mecole can talk. He was going on and on about keeping the talent in-state and starting something new. He said he was tired of seeing Alabama win and all these boys leaving out of state to go to school. We were going to start something new and bring a championship home. But his biggest thing was, ‘Imagine winning a national championship in your home state. Think about that now’ and that really stuck out to me. I was like ‘Man, that would really feel good’ when he said that.”
  • If Hardman had never called, he doesn’t know what he would’ve done. He’d have went with his heart with his decision. Which hat would it have been? Simmons only knows it would’ve been even closer.
  • Simmons said Mark Richt and Georgia Tech head coach Paul Johnson and his linebackers coach Andy McCollum stood out as the nicest coaches on the trail.  
  • Five-star UGA quarterback signee Jacob Eason spoke to him in the days before his decision. He echoed the fact Simmons was needed at UGA compared to just being another cog in the Alabama machine.
  • He told Alabama receivers coach Billy Napier he was having a bit of hesitation before his announcement and was feeling more at home at UGA. Simmons said Napier told him, “Don’t make a lifetime decision on a temporary feeling.” Simmons then went and picked up the Georgia hat. He was tight with Napier and it was very hard to tell him he was thinking of going somewhere else.
  • After his decision, he said his father had a discussion with Saban. It went along the lines of, “I thought you were committed to us” and “we were committed to you” and continued from there.
  • He still thinks about what UGA offensive coordinator Jim Chaney did with a spreadsheet, comparing how much the receivers in the last draft made were paid in relation to where they were picked. Chaney then cross-referenced that with their heights, weights and speed times with what Simmons can do. That made UGA’s plan to develop him into a high draft pick seem more like a plan and not just talk.  
  • Smart was huge. “I love Coach Smart,” Simmons said. “He was the one who recruited me from Alabama from the jump. Around this time last year he started looking at me at my state track meet. He was the first one from Alabama to reach out to me. He came up to the track meet and took pictures and I was like, ‘Man, he’s from Alabama. That’s a dream come true.’ I have family in Alabama. I eventually committed (to Alabama) before he moved to Georgia. But before he moved he told me he knew he was moving either this year or sometime soon. He said he was going to get a head coaching position and ‘wherever I go I’ll recruit you.’ He said, ‘I’m going to recruit the heck out of you wherever I go,’ and that’s what he did.”
  • When Smart drew headlines by flying a yellow helicopter to McEachern to see him, he wasn’t even there. He was off-campus at lunch with his mother and Alabama assistant Bobby Williams.
  • His best official visit was to Alabama, but Georgia Tech had the best food. They took him to Fogo de Chao and The Capital Grille. He also reached out to Ohio State about a potential visit, but never heard back. He said it kept him humble amid all the big-time offers coming his way.
  • If National Signing Day was on Jan. 3, he would’ve went to Alabama. If it was this week, he has no idea what his choice would have been. That’s even though he’s happy with his decision. He carries around a bag filled with several wardrobe changes of UGA hats, shirts and other gear.

Simmons is already taking college courses at Atlanta Metro on Mondays and Wednesdays. He’s enrolled in Literature and Composition (basically

Look for SImmons to play some running back at UGA. (Jeff Sentell / AJC)

English 101) and Pre-Calculus. He said that Math class is a “10” on the degree of difficulty.

What did he learn from all this?

“You have to be smart enough to see through to the real and all the fake,” he said. “You got to see through what the coaches are pitching you to know what is fake. They will pitch you a lot of stuff and some ‘BS’ from time to time. You just have to sit down with your family and analyze it. That was one of my biggest problems with all I had to learn from.”

Unless otherwise indicated, player rankings and ratings are from the 247Sports Composite.

Jeff Sentell covers UGA football and UGA recruiting for AJC.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on who’s on their way to play Between the Hedges.

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