Harbaugh calls Fickell’s claims ‘erroneous’ amid Hudson transfer saga

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 5:43pm

Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh fired back at Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell on Tuesday evening, after Fickell scolded Harbaugh for his role in the handling of tackle James Hudson’s transfer and immediate eligibility waiver.

Hudson, who transferred from Michigan to Cincinnati last October, was denied his petition for immediate eligibility after speaking out about his struggle with depression while at Michigan.

“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 ass. And I’m really, completely disappointed in it.”

Harbaugh refuted that claim, noting that it’s within the NCAA’s purview -- not Michigan’s -- to determine Hudson’s eligibility, and that Michigan did nothing to deter Hudson’s chances.

“I read Luke Fickell’s comments and unless I’m reading them wrong or mistaking them, I believe he’s under the impression that these waivers are decided coach to coach in some kind of deal fashion. And that’s 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 and enlighten us and the entire football world, I would really like to know what that is.

“Erroneous, erroneous,” Harbaugh then said Tuesday, of Fickell’s assertions. “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 his hands. It’s the way the process works right now. Those waivers are decided by the NCAA.”

The NCAA’s decision on Hudson comes amid a flurry of inquiries from transfers, some of whom successfully gain eligibility while others fail to do so. Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson, of course, was granted immediate eligibility to play last season after leaving Ole Miss, which was under heavy NCAA sanctions at the time. This year, Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields will be immediately eligible, leaving Georgia after he was subjected to racist comments from a baseball player.

The NCAA’s rulings in these situations have become notoriously difficult to predict. The NCAA provision states that a player can receive immediate eligibility if “the transfer is due to documented mitigating circumstances that are outside the student-athlete’s control and directly impact the health, safety and well-being of the student-athlete.”

Hudson and Fickell certainly felt his circumstances met those criteria, though Hudson never expressed his feelings of depression to school administrators. 

This public back and forth comes just weeks after Harbaugh insinuated players often feel the need to fabricate reasons to seek eligibility — comments that drew the ire of those who felt he was directly suggesting Hudson misrepresented his mental health.

“And the other piece that bothers me about it is, the youngster that says ‘this is a mental health issue, I’m suffering from depression.’ Or that’s a reason to get eligible,” Harbaugh said at Big Ten Media Days, in the context of post-transfer eligibility.. And once that’s known that ‘Hey, say this or say that’ to get eligible. The problem I see in that is you’re going to have guys that are ‘OK, yeah, I’m depressed.’

Glenda Hudson, James’ mother, recalled to The Athletic receiving a text from her son shortly after.

“My son text me and told me, ‘Coach called me a liar, mom,’” she said.

Days later, Harbaugh issued a tweet to clarify his remarks, stating "My belief is that a one-time transfer should be allowed for all student athletes. I am clearly advocating for rights that college football players have not had." He reiterated that stance Tuesday, which, were it NCAA policy, would render this entire situation moot.

But it's not. And Harbaugh said Tuesday that when Fickell initially reached out to him to discuss Hudson’s situation, Fickell “tried to coach me into saying it differently”, presumably in an attempt to sway the NCAA toward a more lenient ruling. 

“I called him to say that I don’t know what’s going on with all these waivers, but I know James is here,” Fickell told The Athletic. “Are you guys going to be vindictive against him, or do you want to help this kid?”

“And I told him, ‘Coach I mean I believe you’re telling the truth, forthright,’ ” Harbaugh recalled. “ ‘What I told James, what I told you, what I told compliance is going to be the truth.’ As I said, I read the article. He asked a question in the article, ‘What’s most important: personal beliefs or what’s in the best interest of the kid?’ And I can answer that. What’s most important is the truth.”