Randy Edsall summoned Danny O’Brien and Max Garcia to his office early Wednesday morning for what became, according to two individuals familiar with the discussion, an easygoing, 15-minute conversation. The Maryland football coach explained he was lifting his earlier restriction that barred the players from transferring to 16 schools, including Vanderbilt. Edsall then wished them well.
What Edsall did not tell them was what they learned afterward through news reports: that Maryland had already filed a formal complaint to the ACC laying out tampering charges against Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin, the former Maryland offensive coordinator and head coach-in-waiting who had built close relationships with O’Brien and Garcia while at Maryland.
The ACC turned over the complaint to the Southeastern Conference; the SEC will review the matter. An individual familiar with the complaint said Maryland has concerns that Vanderbilt was in contact with Maryland players throughout this past season, perhaps with the intent of recruiting them. Franklin has said he has strong relationships with former players but denied any tampering allegations.
Vanderbilt Vice Chancellor David Williams issued a statement that said the school has been informed by the SEC that the ACC has filed a “formal complaint on behalf of one of its members. We are complying with SEC and Vanderbilt procedures and are conducting an investigation on the matter.”
SEC spokesman Charles Bloom declined comment and referred to the Vanderbilt statement.
Despite the clearance to transfer to Vanderbilt, O’Brien, the 2010 ACC rookie of the year and third-year sophomore who last week announced he would transfer, is unlikely to take one of his visits to Vanderbilt for two reasons: O’Brien does not want to subject Franklin, whom he maintains great respect for, to any further scrutiny.
And O’Brien also has a plethora of other options to join what people close to him describe as high-profile, nationally ranked football programs, including one that won the national championship in the past decade.
Maryland will continue to pay for the education of all three players throughout the spring. Because O’Brien will graduate this spring, the quarterback can play immediately at another Football Bowl Subdivision school so long as he enrolls in a graduate program not offered at Maryland. At least a dozen well-recognized programs have expressed strong interest, including multiple schools that played in BCS games the past two seasons and perennial contenders from the Big 12, SEC and Big Ten.
Those with knowledge of the suitors said several schools would prefer that their interest not become public yet.
Despite struggling this past season to match his performance of 2010, O’Brien is coveted particularly because he has two years of eligibility remaining. He plans to sit down with his family in Kernersville, N.C., this weekend to trim his list of schools to five to seven. After that, he is planning to take at least three visits to campuses.
Edsall reversed his position on the restrictions after absorbing considerable media backlash. He was criticized for stipulating that O’Brien, Garcia (an offensive lineman) and linebacker Mario Rowson could not transfer on football scholarships to Vanderbilt, the 11 current ACC schools, future ACC members Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and upcoming nonconference opponents Temple and West Virginia.
While it is common for coaches to restrict players from transferring to future opponents, Maryland is not scheduled to play Vanderbilt in the near future. In a statement released by the school Wednesday, Edsall said: “While at first I thought it was important to limit the institutions to which they could transfer, I have since reconsidered my decision. At the end of the day, I want what’s best for these guys and I wish them well in their futures.
“As a program we are looking forward to putting this distraction behind us and to moving forward.”
All along, O’Brien’s exit had little to do with potentially playing at Vanderbilt. His departure was expected by several players and parents of players since the middle of what was a disastrous first season for Edsall. In all, 12 players have left since the end of a 2-10 season that was marred by a divided locker room and parent and player frustration with Edsall’s communication style and philosophical approach.
When Edsall initially announced O’Brien’s transfer, he said that O’Brien had told him that the quarterback was “not committed” and “not all-in.” That depiction of O’Brien did not square with the reputation O’Brien has built in the eyes of many within the program in recent years.
As a high school senior in North Carolina, O’Brien would drive up to College Park in the wee hours of the morning for the opportunity to sit in Franklin’s quarterback meetings to watch film, learn terminology and ask questions. And in the first team meeting after Edsall was hired, O’Brien, one of the few players with a question, had two for his new coach: “When am I getting a playbook? And when are you hiring an offensive coordinator?”
Now, 14 months after helping Franklin clean out his office, O’Brien is on his way out. When reached on his cellphone, O’Brien respectfully declined to comment beyond the statement released by Maryland.
“I am pleased to be able to move on and pursue a graduate degree and continue my athletic career at the school of my choosing,” O’Brien said in the statement. “I would like to thank Coach Edsall for his support throughout this process.”