CLEMSON - After an offseason of contemplation and another spring practice to make sure, Clemson backup quarterback Willie Simmons announced Thursday he is leaving the school.
Simmons, who will be a redshirt senior this fall, plans to transfer to one of three places - Division 1-AA schools Florida A&M or The Citadel, or Division II power Valdosta State - in hopes of becoming the starting quarterback. He opened the 2002 season as Clemson's starter, but was replaced after eight games by redshirt freshman Charlie Whitehurst.
Whitehurst kept the starting job with his performance during spring practice so, unable to extract a promise from head coach Tommy Bowden that he would play in every game this season, Simmons decided to transfer.
Simmons met with Bowden on several occasions to discuss the issue, including again Wednesday.
"After thinking about it for a long time and weighing all my options, I felt that my best opportunity to pursue my career and play on the next level would be to leave Clemson University," Simmons told the media Thursday afternoon. "I've probably known for about a week now. I met with the (other) quarterbacks last Thursday and ... broke it down to them.
"I've been holding it since then. I met with coach (Wednesday) and finalized it."
The Tigers now are left with redshirt freshmen Chansi Stuckey and Will Proctor as backups to Whitehurst, neither of whom has taken a snap in the regular season.
Bowden, who openly lobbied for Simmons to stay, nevertheless said he respected the decision and had nothing but good things to say about the former Quincy (Fla.) High School star.
"We certainly wanted Willie Simmons to remain at Clemson," Bowden said in a statement released by the school. "He has represented the University well and has been a great ambassador. You have to be proud of any player who graduates in three years.
"He had a good spring and would have challenged for the quarterback position in the fall. But, I was not going to make any false promises about playing to him to get him to stay. Charlie Whitehurst is our starter heading into August practice.
"I can certainly understand Willie's decision to transfer. I hate to see him leave, but he has to do what he feels is best for himself and his family."
Simmons, who already has received his degree in marketing and finished postgraduate exams Thursday, started just eight games in his Clemson career. But it was his play backing up Woodrow Dantzler as a redshirt freshman that led many to believe he would be the Tigers' next great quarterback.
Subbing for an injured Dantzler in 2000, he directed a dramatic comeback victory over North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Entering the game in the second quarter with Clemson trailing 17-0, Simmons threw four touchdown passes to lead the Tigers to a 38-24 victory.
Later that same year, he again relieved Dantzler and led Clemson to 10 straight points in another fourth quarter rally, only to see Georgia Tech score in the final seconds to win the game.
After spending most of 2001 in a mop-up role behind Dantzler, Simmons opened the 2002 season as Clemson's starting quarterback.
He had his moments, including a 293-yard passing game against Florida State last fall. But he also developed a habit of fumbling the ball under pressure and, after several warning from Bowden, Simmons ultimately was replaced by Whitehurst in the season's ninth week vs. Duke.
To his credit, Simmons continued to support Whitehurst over the season's final five games, and characterized this spring's battle for the No. 1 quarterback spot as friendly.
"Charlie's a great guy and there are no hard feelings there," Simmons said. "We competed in the spring and I think the coaches did a good job of making sure we got equal reps. (Whitehurst) entered the spring as the starter, we both performed well and did what we were asked to do.
"I didn't overtake him, and that's the nature of the position. (The decision) came out of that. He's the No. 1 guy, and if I had stayed he would still be the No. 1 guy."
Simmons leaves the school ranked 11th in Clemson history in passing yards (2,530), 11th in pass attempts (391), 10th in completions (204), ninth in touchdown passes (16) and ninth in completion percentage (.522).
The Tigers were 4-4 in his eight career starts.