After playing for two teams and four head coaches in four seasons, quarterback Danny O'Brien is again college football's version of a free agent, hoping to find a school where he can fulfill the promise he showed in a redshirt freshman season at Maryland that seems long ago.
“Funny circumstances” is how the 2010 Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year describes the unusual arc of his college career.
O'Brien said in an interview Monday that he won't return to Wisconsin next season and is looking for a suitable spot to use his final year of eligibility.
O'Brien and his family love the Baltimore-Washington area, and he could be interested in returning — meaning Towson is a possibility. He was popular at Maryland and did a summer internship in marketing at Baltimore-based Under Armour.
While with the Terps for three seasons, O'Brien worked closely with Tyler Bowen, a former Maryland offensive lineman who became a Terps graduate assistant and is now a Towson assistant.
Calls to Towson's media athletics office were not immediately returned, and O'Brien said it would be premature to comment on possible transfer scenarios. “I haven't figured that out,” the quarterback said of his next move.
Wisconsin finished 8-6 last season, losing to Stanford in the Rose Bowl. O'Brien played in seven games, completing 52 of 86 passes (60.5 percent) for 523 yards with three touchdown passes and one interception. He started three games before yielding to Joel Stave as the Badgers trailed Utah State, 14-3, on Sept. 15. Wisconsin came back for a 16-14 victory.
Wisconsin coach Bret Bielma left for Arkansas in December, and Gary Andersen replaced him.
O'Brien, who is 6 feet 3 and 224 pounds, said he spoke to Andersen and asked, “Am I going to get a chance to compete?”
O'Brien, who will be 23 years old in September, said it seemed Andersen was set with other quarterbacks, and that the right decision was to move on.
“Coach Andersen has been awesome helping out,” O'Brien said.
O'Brien — from Kernersville, N.C., — was once a Maryland team leader whose picture adorned Terps' promotional literature. His was recruited by former Maryland assistant James Franklin, now Vanderbilt's head coach.
But O'Brien struggled in his final Maryland season in 2011 — a 56.4 completion percentage, seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions. It was Randy Edsall's first year as Maryland's coach.
After regaining the starting job, O'Brien broke his left arm in a loss to Notre Dame. He was escorted off the field in the third quarter gingerly elevating his left arm — his last Maryland play.
O'Brien, who had split time in his last season at Maryland with C.J. Brown, transferred to Wisconsin in early 2012 after graduating. Maryland complained publicly that it believed Franklin had made improper contact with the player.
O'Brien has already had four college coaches in his career — Ralph Friedgen and Edsall at Maryland, and Bielma and Andersen at Wisconsin. Barry Alvarez stepped in as interim Badgers coach for the 2013 Rose Bowl. It's not certain how much the transitions affected O'Brien. But having a succession of coaches can be trying for a quarterback.
“It takes probably between two and three months just to get acclimated to the vernacular and the words in an offense and a defense,” said former Maryland defensive lineman A.J. Francis, who was preparing Monday to attend minicamp with the Miami Dolphins.
Francis said he spoke to O'Brien recently and that “he told me he was getting ready to play. He feels like it's been too long since he was able to contribute to a team. Danny's not a guy that gets down on himself. He's one of my favorite teammates I ever had.”
O'Brien and Brown — who is projected to be this season's Maryland starter — redshirted together in their freshman season of 2009. O'Brien was aided last season from an NCAA rule allowing graduates to play immediately at a new school offering a graduate program unavailable at the first institution.
In 2010, his best season, O'Brien benefited by throwing often to deep threat Torrey Smith, who caught 12 touchdown passes, including four from O'Brien in one game. Smith is now with the Ravens.
Asked if he possesses his own NFL ambitions, O'Brien replied: “Absolutely.”