Cincinnati's Fickell responds to Harbaugh's comments: 'They didn’t work to help the kid out'

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

A day after Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh issued some fiery statements about Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, the response from Fickell was not combative, but he didn’t back down.

At issue is former Wolverine James Hudson, who transferred to UC but was not granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA. In May, Hudson posted on Twitter that his appeal had been denied and also revealed he had been dealing with depression but didn’t feel comfortable seeking help while at Michigan.

Jim Harbaugh has said Michigan had nothing to do with the NCAA’s decision not to grant James Hudson immediate eligibility.

Harbaugh spoke at length Tuesday night about Fickell’s remarks in a story published by The Athletic on Tuesday regarding the Hudson transfer. Hudson’s mother, Glenda, said in the story Michigan had undermined Hudson’s transfer waiver. Fickell said Michigan did not “back the waiver.”

“They can say they didn’t undermine it, but they didn’t work to help the kid out,” Fickell said

Harbaugh called Fickell “erroneous” and said Michigan did not block the waiver and shared how he understood how the transfer process works.

“That is not in the coaches’ hands, it’s not in the university’s hands, it’s not in his hands,” Harbaugh said. “The way the process works right now, those waivers are decided by the NCAA.”

Under normal circumstances, athletes who transfer from one Division I school to another must sit out one year.

After Michigan quarterback Shea Patterson’s highly publicized battle to be granted immediately after transferring from Ole Miss, however, the NCAA in 2018 modified the “Division I Four-Year College Transfers Directive.” With that alteration, a player can transfer without restriction as long as there are “mitigating circumstances outside the student-athletes’ control.” It is referred to in some circles as “The Shea Patterson Rule.”

Fickell, according to the Athletic story, said he spoke with Harbaugh this year about Hudson.

“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 said in the story. “Are you guys going to be vindictive against him, or do you want to help this kid?”

Harbaugh said the two men spoke in March and Fickell asked about the decision to switch Hudson from defensive line to offensive line.

“Turned out that he was really good at that offensive line position,” Harbaugh said. “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.”

Fickell said Wednesday night he had not read Harbaugh’s comments.

“My wife made me aware of them,” Fickell told reporters after practice Wednesday night. “Sorry, I haven’t read the article yet, I haven’t had time to read any of the comments, to be honest with you. We had a couple kids go down (with injuries Tuesday) and spent a lot of time with them, spent some time talking with their families. That, to me, was a lot more important than worrying about what Jim Harbaugh has to say about us and our program or me in general.

“I know where we stand. I know that James Hudson has done a lot of things and I think it’s a shame. I know that guys can get eligible, like Blue (Smith) and Kyriq (McDonald), and it has a lot to do with the programs they are coming from. That is what it is. If we’re not going to get any help from them, which we didn’t and James didn’t, then it’s pretty much a moot point. It’s over with and we’ll move on.”

Luke Fickell

Harbaugh disagreed with Fickell’s comments in the article.

“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 Tuesday night. “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."

Harbaugh was asked what Fickell wanted him to agree on.

“He tried to coach me into saying it differently, not saying it that way,” Harbaugh said. “And I told him, ‘I’m not going to lie. I’m going to tell the truth.’ (He) didn’t like the version I was giving.”

The coaches have not spoken since earlier in the year, Harbaugh said.

“That was the one time that he called in March,” he said. “I even told him in March, I said, ‘Coach, my understanding of this is you seem to think this is some kind of coach-to-coach-we’re-going-to-work-a-deal here, and that’s not my understanding of how this process works.’

“It didn’t work that way when Shea Patterson was transferring from Ole Miss to the University of Michigan. I was told I wouldn’t have any involvement in it. That would be the two compliance departments would talk, the NCAA would decide the eligibility of Shea Patterson. You asked me on several occasions, ‘What do you know about Shea Patterson?’ I don’t know anything. I’m not involved in it, you can go back and look at your notes. I wasn’t involved in it, didn’t talk to his lawyer, didn’t talk to his family. Whatever the NCAA decides will be what happens. We like Shea being here whether he’s eligible immediately or whether he has to sit a year in residence.”

Fickell was asked about Harbaugh’s comment that the schools have no input on the NCAA appeal.

“I know differently,” Fickell said.

He then said he has notes from the phone call when he asked Harbaugh his “stance” on Hudson. He said he asked Harbaugh, “Are you going to help the kid?”

“It wasn’t pleasant,” Fickell said of the phone call with Harbaugh. “It was kind of cold. It was short. It wasn’t a long conversation. It wasn’t hard to figure out what their stance was. They weren’t going to hold him up, but they weren’t going to help him.”

Last month at Big Ten media days, Harbaugh said he was in favor of a one-time transfer for football players, no questions asked. Later during an appearance on ESPNU he continued speaking on the topic of transfers and said that players who transferred can’t just say they have a mental health issue to be granted immediate eligibility. Harbaugh did not mention Hudson by name when he made those comments.

As far as the Hudson transfer, Harbaugh reiterated Michigan had nothing to do with the NCAA’s decision not to grant Hudson immediate eligibility.

“(Fickell) keeps trying to make it about Michigan has blocked the transfer waiver, or Michigan has somehow decided not to grant this waiver,” Harbaugh said. "And again, that’s not how this process works in my understanding. As it related to the waiver, I didn’t write the waiver. Our compliance asked me one question. They asked me the question of tell us about how did the process happen with James switching from defensive line to offensive line."

“The same thing I told you just now, I told James on the field that day and I told Coach Fickell. That’s the only part I’ve been asked to talk about by our compliance department. Whoever I deal with I’m going to be honest. If he’s asking what my personal beliefs are in a different way, that’s well-documented. My personal beliefs on this are, a football player should have a right they’ve never had, which is they should be able to choose which 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, that’s well-documented. And I do believe that’s in the best interests of the young men who play football and play any other sport in college. It’s their decision to make and their family’s decision to make.”

Fickell said he disagrees with how the NCAA handled this transfer situation.

“I’m disappointed in the NCAA as well,” he said. @chengelis