Michigan’s Jim Harbaugh responds to Luke Fickell’s transfer allegation, trumpets 'truth'

Michigan’s top rival will always be Ohio State, but this week Wolverines coach Jim Harbaugh has taken exception with another school from a neighboring state.

Earlier this week, Cincinnati head coach Luke Fickell (who spent 16 years as an assistant at Ohio State before taking over the Bearcats in 2017) alleged Harbaugh and Michigan hindered an eligibility waiver for James Hudson, who transferred to Cincinnati from Michigan during the 2018 season.

Hudson said Cincinnati filed a waiver to make him immediately eligible for the 2019 season as he cited mental health as the reason for his transfer and not his position switch from the defensive line to the offensive line.

That waiver was denied by the NCAA, and Fickell told The Athletic “all the power is in the hands of the school a player is leaving” and that 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,” Fickell told The Athletic. “They are just trying to cover their a-. They can say they didn’t undermine it, but they didn’t work to help the kid out.”

Harbaugh responded Tuesday, wished Hudson well with the Bearcats and called Fickell’s assessment “erroneous.” He said Fickell tried to coach him on how to paint Hudson’s transfer as a benefit to the player’s mental health.

Here’s an excerpt from Harbaugh’s comments made at a Tuesday press conference.

“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.

“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.”

Hudson admitted he never told Harbaugh or Michigan that he was dealing with depression.

“Like many football players I was afraid to speak up about my depression not wanting to look weak,” Hudson posted on Twitter. “Now the NCAA is telling me that my courage to step forward and speak about my issues was done too late and subjectively my ‘Circumstances do not warrant relief.'”

At Big Ten media days in July, Harbaugh said he was a proponent of players being able to transfer once and play immediately. Also, without claiming Hudson was lying about his depression, Harbaugh discussed mental health waiver claims and his advocacy of the truth.

“The youngster that says ‘OK. This is a mental health issue. I’m suffering from depression.’ Or that’s a reason that they’re getting eligible. And once that’s known that you’re [getting eligible], ‘Hey, just say this. Or say that.’ And then to get eligible, the problem I see in that is that you’re going to have guys that are ‘OK, yeah I’m depressed,'” Harbaugh told ESPNU Radio. “Probably the No. 1 thing that you need to do, especially at a college, is you can’t have experiments that aren’t truthful. You can’t lie about experiments. You can’t lie about equations. You shouldn’t be lying in football and that’s a message we should be teaching.”

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