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Harbaugh 'Astounded' By Luke Fickell's Comments: "I Believe In Telling The Truth"

"If he’s questioning what my personal beliefs are, then that’s what I believe in."

August 13, 2019 - 9:41 pm

Wanting strongly to clear the air, Jim Harbaugh spent the last seven minutes of his press conference Tuesday night disputing comments made by Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell that Harbaugh and Michigan conspired to block transfer James Hudson's waiver for immediate eligibility this season. 

Hudson, a redshirt sophomore, transferred to Cincinnati last year and appealed for immediate eligibility on the grounds he experienced mental health issues during his two seasons at Michigan. His waiver was twice denied by the NCAA. 

"I read Luke Fickell’s comments," said Harbaugh, "and unless I'm reading them wrong, I believe he’s under the impression that these waivers are decided coach-to-coach in some kind of deal fashion. That is not the understanding that I’m under. I’m under the understanding that the NCAA decides these waivers. Unless he has something that he can bring forth and share to enlighten us and the entire football world, I would really like to know what that is." 

In a story published Tuesday by The Athletic, Fickell blamed Harbaugh and Michigan for not supporting Hudson's waiver while it was under review. Harbaugh said Fickell wanted him to push a narrative, presumably one centered on Hudson's mental health, that wasn't true. 

As Harbaugh tells it, Fickell called him in March to ask about Hudson's position switch from defensive line to offensive line as a freshman. Harbaugh said he personally suggested the switch after two weeks of watching Hudson play and that Hudson agreed to it. 

"That’s what I told Coach Fickell, exactly the way it happened when I talked to James on the field that day. And then Coach Fickell tried to coach me on how to say it different," Harbaugh said. "I told him, 'Coach, I believe in telling the truth. Forthright, honest. What I told James, what I tell you, what I tell compliance is going to be the truth.'

"As I said, I read the article. He asked the question in the article, 'What’s most important: your personal beliefs or what’s in the best interests of the kid?' And I can answer that. What’s most important is the truth. If he’s questioning what my personal beliefs are, then that’s what I believe in. I believe in being forthright, honest and telling the truth. I'm astounded that he’s gotten to where he’s at by not knowing the answer to that question." 

In his comments, Fickell said he was disappointed in Harbaugh and Michigan for their unwillingness to actively support Hudson's waiver.

"(Michigan) didn’t back the waiver," he told The Athletic, "They can say what they want to say, but the only thing they said that was positive was that if the NCAA chooses to make (Hudson) eligible, then they would accept it — that they didn’t have an angle. They are just trying to cover their ass. And I’m really, completely disappointed in it. They can say they didn’t undermine it, but they didn’t work to help the kid out.”

Hudson also called them out for "trying to bash a 19-year-old on things that were hearsay" after Hudson decided to transfer, specifically the accusation that Hudson was seen leaving a liquor store near Michigan's campus. 

Harbaugh shot down the idea that Michigan in any way undermined Hudson's waiver. 

"Erroneous, erroneous," Harbaugh said. "Michigan did not block the waiver, no. We wish James Hudson well. But that is not in the coach’s hands, it’s not in the university's hands, it’s not in (Fickell's) hands. The way the process works right now, those waivers are decided by the NCAA." 

At Big Ten media days last month, Harbaugh said players who transfer shouldn't have to make up a "mental health issue" in order to gain immediate eligibility, which seemed like an insinuation that Hudson was lying. Hudson took it as such. But Harbaugh's larger point was that every player should get one chance to transfer without having to sit out a year, something he reiterated on Tuesday in response to Fickell. 

"If he's asking what my personal beliefs are in a different way, that's well-documented," Harbaugh said. "My personal beliefs on this are that a football player should have the right that they’ve never had, which is that they should be able to choose what school they attend and where they play football and have the one-time ability to transfer schools. That’s how I personally feel about this issue. 

"I do believe that’s in the best interest of the young men who play football, or any other sport in college, that it’s their decision to make and their family’s decision to make." 

Michigan's starting quarterback Shea Patterson, of course, gained immediate eligibility last season after he transferred from Ole Miss. Harbaugh said he handled that process the same way he handled the one with Hudson, while Fickell was expecting "some kind of coach-to-coach, we’re going to work a deal here.'"

"It didn’t work that way when Shea Patterson was transferring form Ole Miss to the University of Michigan. I was told I wouldn’t have any involvement in it, that it would be the two compliance departments that would talk," Harbaugh said. "The NCAA would decide the eligibility of Shea Patterson. I wasn’t involved in it. I didn’t talk to his lawyer, I didn't talk to his family. I said, 'Whatever the NCAA decides will be what happens."