Of the more than 80 scholarship football players who will be impacted by a coaching change at Maryland, none will be more immediately affected than redshirt freshman quarterback Danny O'Brien.
Recently named the Atlantic Coast Conference's Rookie of the Year after leading the Terps to an 8-4 record and late-season contention for a division title, O'Brien now faces the prospect of continuing his career in College Park without the two coaches most responsible for him being there — coach Ralph Friedgen and offensive coordinator James Franklin.
Franklin, who recruited O'Brien to Maryland, was introduced Friday as the new coach at Vanderbilt. Friedgen, whose decision to stick with O'Brien after junior starter Jamarr Robinson injured his shoulder early in the season, has been told by new athletic director Kevin Anderson that he won't return for the 2011 season, according to sources.
So where does that leave O'Brien, who overcame a botched handoff in the season opener against Navy in his first collegiate play from scrimmage to have the most productive season by any freshman quarterback in school history? Disappointed with the decision and confused about his future, according to his high school coach.
"I spent [Friday] night with Danny and for players who work as hard as they have and to have people who don't have a lot of control over what's going on [on the field] kind of take it away from the kids who do all the work is kind of a sad thing," said Todd Willert, who coached O'Brien at East Forsyth High in Kernersville, N.C.
O'Brien, who began the season as Robinson's backup, wound up throwing for 2,257 yards with 21 touchdowns and just six interceptions. He finished the regular season by throwing for 417 yards and four touchdown passes — all of them to Torrey Smith — in a victory over North Carolina State.
"The two coaches who recruited you to come up to Maryland and you're six hours away, how would you feel?" Willert said. "You're 20 years old, you've done everything they've asked you to do and they pull it right from him. It's a sad thing. That's what sports has come to. It's all about making money, I guess."
Willert said that O'Brien left campus around 2 p.m. Friday to drive back home, unaware that discussions were under way that would lead to Friedgen, 63, not returning in 2011.
"By the time he gets home trying to celebrate Christmas with his family, that's what he hears," Willert said Saturday.
O'Brien could not be reached for comment Sunday.
Willert said he and O'Brien haven't talked about the possibility of playing for former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach, whose quarterbacks were among the most prolific passers in the country over his 10 seasons in Lubbock. Nor has he talked about the chance of O'Brien transferring to Vanderbilt in order to reunite with Franklin.
"That's something on Danny and his family. I have no idea one way or another," Willert said. "Right now I know he wants to get back up there and play the bowl game and sit down with his teammates. A lot of them are looking at Danny for answers. It's just not fair to put a 20-year-old kid in that situation, especially after what he's done for the university. It's just a shame."