Simmons Focused on Building Roster 24-7

Former 247Sports scouting director joins high school teammate Clark Lea at Vanderbilt

by Chad Bishop

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Clark Lea knew a long time ago if he ever got an opportunity to become a head coach that one of his first staff hires would be long-time friend Barton Simmons.

But as each man grew older and more advanced in their respective careers, the likelihood of that happening seemed more and more far-fetched. Not because Lea didn’t have what it takes to become a head coach or that Simmons didn’t believe in Lea’s abilities – it was just assumed that the stars would not align like they have.

“It was a job that, realistically I never thought I would take,” Simmons said. “I love the city of Nashville and I didn’t want to leave it. Clark had always talked to me about, ‘Whenever I get a head job, I’m going to bring you with me.’

“I would always joke, ‘Good luck because I’m not leaving Nashville.’ ”

As fate would have it, Simmons doesn’t have to leave Nashville. Lea came back to Music City and back to Simmons.

Lea was hired Dec. 14 as Vanderbilt’s 29th head football coach. Not long after he contacted Simmons to become the program’s general manager – director of personnel.

At 247Sports, based in nearby Brentwood, Simmons was its director of scouting. He had been with that sports media company since 2010 as he rose to one of the most-respected names in college football recruiting and prospect analysis.

Simmons played college football at Yale after graduating from Montgomery Bell Academy – also Lea’s alma mater.

“For him to land this job in this town at a program like Vanderbilt that I know has so much potential, it was really a perfect opportunity to jump in,” Simmons said. “I think my belief in him and my belief that he’s going to do this right, emboldened me to take this leap and attack this thing. He’s the guy that’s going to make this last.”



Among Simmons’ main responsibilities for the Vanderbilt football program will be helping to shape the roster. That’s not simply just forming a recruiting class from year to year.

With an Ivy League degree of his own and working for a Vanderbilt alum, Simmons will have a clear understanding of what sort of student-athlete can and will succeed on West End – both in the classroom and at Vanderbilt Stadium.

“It’s really just maintaining a big-picture, long-term vision for the roster – and making sure the details on a daily basis are all pointed toward the long-term vision of what this roster is,” Simmons said. “I think it’s ultimately shepherding the vision of coach Lea for how this roster is supposed to look and how to get there.

“The way we get there is to be smart, to be forward-thinking and to be really disciplined about what kind of player can be successful at Vanderbilt. My job is going to be to hold us to those standards that we set.”

Simmons was a 6-foot-3, 205-pound defensive back for the Yale Bulldogs, where he was named second team All-Ivy as a sophomore. He made more than 200 career tackles and once told the Hartford Courant, “nothing feels better than knocking a guy down.”

Now he’s looking for the same sort of mentalities in future Commodores while knowing the roster already has the building blocks from which to start.

Simmons said despite an 0-9 record for Vandy in 2020, he and Lea are excited about the returning student-athletes, whom they believe can lead a quick turnaround.

The future of Vanderbilt football starts with constructing a team around the current squad, the young men who signed with the program in December, those who will sign with the program in February and the young men who will become Commodores in the years to come.

“The vision Clark Lea has is one that fits well in this program,” Simmons said. “His vision, culture and character are foundational elements that are going to propel this program to reach new heights. What we know about this community, this city, this University and the type of student-athletes that we’re confident we can get here, I think that those things really unlock so much potential here.

“I just think the commitment from (athletic director) Candice Lee, the vision of coach Lea and the people he is hiring, those things give me so much conviction that this thing is going to be successful. We’re going to win here and I want to be a part of it.”

— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for
Follow him @MrChadBishop.