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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Luck Fickell not worrying about Jim Harbaugh anymore

Jim Harbaugh

Cincinnati Bearcats head coach Luke Fickell seems to be backing down after working all offseason to make Michigan look like a villain over the NCAA not granting immediate eligibility to transfer James Hudson.

Hudson was a redshirt freshman at Michigan last year and appeared in three games as a right tackle. His mother asked for a meeting with Wolverines head coach Jim Harbaugh that took place on Oct. 22, 2018, two days after the Wolverines’ win over Michigan State.

The meeting was said to be abrupt. Later that day, Hudson decided to enter his name into the transfer portal.

Harbaugh contends that the meeting was about playing time and that Hudson was upset he had been surpassed on the depth chart for the Michigan State game. The coach said Hudson was surpassed because of an injury.

Hudson decided to transfer to Cincinnati and sought a waiver to be granted immediate eligibility to play. The waiver request was denied, as was Hudson’s appeal.

Hudson, his mother, and Fickell then embarked on a smear campaign aimed at Michigan, blaming them and Harbaugh for not helping out the player, who says he was dealing with depression at Michigan.

The NCAA denied Hudson’s requests because the transfer to Cincinnati fell outside of the 100-mile radius from Hudson’s hometown of Toledo, and because there was no documentation of his depression during his time at Michigan. Hudson contends he did not report anything to avoid looking weak.

Harbaugh, Michigan, and the NCAA took heat over the matter. The Michigan coach spoke on the subject at Big Ten Media Days and said he foresaw concerns with players being granted immediate eligibility for citing mental health reasons. He said that once players see a pattern in the NCAA granting waivers, others will follow just to get what they want, even if it means lying about mental health issues.

“Down the road, I don’t see that helping them if that’s not a legitimate thing,” Harbaugh told ESPNU’s Big Ten Radio in July. “But nobody would know. But what are you going to say? Ten years down the road, ‘I just had to say what I had to say’? You’re putting them in a position that’s unfair, not right. You’re saying it just to say it. … That’s not something we should be promoting at the college level. Telling the truth matters, especially at a college.”

Harbaugh is exactly right about that concern. He offered a solution, saying the NCAA should grant a one-time transfer for college football players with no reason required. A second transfer would necessitate a year sitting out.

“I care very deeply about mental health. I’m not saying everybody’s lying about that,” Harbaugh said. “… Just saying, ‘OK, this is America. You started at this school, you didn’t like it, and for whatever the reason is, you’re freely allowed to transfer to any other school like any other human being would have a right to do.’ That’s really the bottom line.”

In an article published by The Athletic’s Justin Williams on Tuesday, Fickell called out Harbaugh and Michigan for not doing more to help out Hudson’s case.

“Here’s what I believe in the whole waiver process: the number one, most important thing, and all the power, comes from the school that a kid is leaving. No matter what,” Fickell told The Athletic. “(Michigan) didn’t back the waiver. 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 a–. 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.”

Michigan says they handled Hudson’s transfer the exact same way they did four others this offseason — impartially. One case was approved, two were not, and another is still being processed.

Harbaugh responded on Tuesday to Fickell saying Michigan could have done more to help Hudson. He says that Fickell essentially wanted Harbaugh to lie on Hudson’s behalf to help the player gain eligibility.

“I read Luke Fickell’s comments and unless I’m reading them wrong or mistaking them, I believe he’s under the impression these waivers are decided coach-to-coach in some kind of deal fashion,” Harbaugh said.

“That is not the understanding that I’m under. I’m under the understanding that the NCAA decides these waivers. Unless he has something he can bring forth and share and enlighten us and the entire football world, I would really like to know what that is because he called me in March and asked me about, specifically, he wanted to know about the position switch that James was switched from defensive line to offensive line. I told him, ‘Yeah, after two weeks of practice watching James at defensive line, I personally, not other coaches, I went up to him and said, James, I think you’ve got the body type to be a really good offensive tackle. We don’t mandate what positions players play at the University of Michigan. You can compete at whatever position you want, do you want to try it out?’ He did.

“Turned out that he was really good at that offensive line position. 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. 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.’ He asked the question in the article, ‘What’s most important? Your personal beliefs, or what’s in the best interest of the kid?’ 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 he’s gotten to where he’s at by not knowing the answer to that question.”

After Harbaugh called out Fickell for essentially asking him to lie to the NCAA, the Cincinnati coach seemed to back down Wednesday, saying he wasn’t worrying about what Harbaugh had to say.

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