Shawn Nestor, a Maryland athletic department spokesman, said Wednesday afternoon that the school “can’t confirm or deny” that O’Brien is leaving the program. On his Twitter account, O’Brien wrote, “Contrary to rumor, I am still a Terp.”
According to one individual with knowledge of the situation, O’Brien will spend the weekend deciding with his family whether to leave Maryland. If he departs, O’Brien would be the 11th player with eligibility remaining to leave the program for various reasons since Edsall’s first season — a disastrous 2-10 campaign — ended in November. In total, O’Brien would be the 23rd player with eligibility remaining to have left the program since Edsall was hired in January 2011.
Despite playing in just 22 games during his Maryland career, O’Brien has made a notable imprint on the field and as an ambassador for the team and university. With his impressive performance in 2010, he gave Maryland fans hope that the Terrapins could emerge from years of mediocrity to field a team that would be competitive on the national stage.
O’Brien’s exit would not be unexpected, even though Edsall parted ways with offensive coordinator Gary Crowton after just one season and hired Mike Locksley to run what Edsall has called a pro-style offense with some spread components.
As early as midway through this past season, several individuals who speak with O’Brien, including some within the program, said he would consider transferring after the season.
They maintained that belief during this offseason, and an additional individual who speaks with O’Brien and Brown said he expected that the loser of the two-man spring quarterback competition would transfer. The decision, however, was expected to be difficult for O’Brien because he said he has loved his time at Maryland — he was accepted into the business school before the 2011 season and completed an internship with Under Armour — and because he feels a close bond with teammates.
Edsall said last week that O’Brien would be limited throughout spring practice because he was still recovering from breaking his non-throwing arm during the Nov. 12 loss against Notre Dame.
As a third-year sophomore, O’Brien did not perform as well under Edsall and Crowton as he did the previous season under Coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin. In what had been billed as an up-tempo, spread offense, O’Brien threw for 1,648 yards in nine game appearances. He completed 56.4 percent of his passes and threw for seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions.
This past season had been difficult on O’Brien, as he was benched and then made to compete with Brown for his job. But he maintained public support for Edsall and supported the efforts of Brown throughout.
Some saw Brown, who is not O’Brien’s equal as a passer, as a better fit for Crowton’s offense because of his mobility. But after the departures of wide receivers Torrey Smith and Adrian Cannon, O’Brien did not have the weapons at receiver that he targeted during the 2010 season. Some individuals within the program said O’Brien struggled with reads, particularly early in the season.
As a redshirt freshman in 2010, O’Brien threw for 2,438 yards, leading Maryland to a 9-4 record in Friedgen’s final season. O’Brien completed 57 percent of his passes and threw for 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions.
O’Brien, a native of Kernersville, N.C., was lightly recruited in high school in part because some college coaches questioned his athletic ability. He chose Maryland to play for Friedgen and, most especially, for Franklin, who then was the head coach-in-waiting. O’Brien and Franklin possess the same meticulous habits and tireless work ethic regarding preparation and film work. They immediately developed a bond.
O’Brien was so impressive in practice during the 2009 season that Friedgen nearly burned his redshirt in one of the final games of that disastrous 10-loss season. In fact, according to those close to both men, Friedgen, who wanted to play O’Brien, and Franklin at times engaged in a debate while communicating on the head set during games about whether to burn O’Brien’s redshirt.
A little more than a year later, however, O’Brien said goodbye to Franklin, who accepted the Vanderbilt head coaching job in part because he had received no assurance that he would someday be the head coach at Maryland. It was an emotional time for O’Brien, who helped Franklin clean out his office.
Staff writer Steve Yanda contributed to this report.