Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh has been vocal about his stance on NCAA transfers, and on Tuesday he fired back at an assertion that he roadblocked the waiver process after one of his former linemen, James Hudson, transferred to Cincinnati last season.
“Michigan did not block the waiver,” Harbaugh said Tuesday night. “We wish James Hudson well. But that is not in the coach’s hands. That is not in the university’s hands. It’s not in his hands. The way the process works right now, those waivers are decided by the NCAA.”
Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell, speaking about Hudson’s transfer, told The Athletic on Tuesday “all the power is in the hands of the school a player is leaving,” and that if a school wanted, it could help the transfer player become eligible.
Hudson, who signed with Michigan in 2017, transferred in October and petitioned for an immediate eligibility waiver. The NCAA denied his claim in May. At that point, Hudson spoke about his mental health issues and said the NCAA told him the claim was denied because he didn’t tell Michigan administrators about his depression.
In July, at Big Ten media days in Chicago, Harbaugh questioned some depression-based transfer claims, saying: “The problem I see in that is you’re going to have guys that are (just going to say), ‘OK, yeah, I’m depressed.’
“Say what they’ve got to say,” Harbaugh continued, without mentioning any names. “But down the road I don’t see that helping them if it’s not a legitimate thing. But nobody would know.”
In response to those comments, Hudson’s mom, Glenda, told WTOL-TV in Toledo that during the waiver process she told Harbaugh her son was “down, depressed and disheartened.“
“Athletes, of all people,” she told the station, “I’m sure there are lots of athletes that are depressed and don’t say anything, and hearing these type of things, they won’t. They won’t do it because they get, ‘he’s lying.’ You get blamed for feeling the way that you feel.”
Harbaugh, who said twice at Big Ten media day he supports one free transfer for each player with no impact on eligibility, disagreed with Fickell’s contention that Michigan “didn’t back the waiver,” and claimed Fickell is operating under a different understanding of the NCAA’s waiver rules.
“I read Luke Fickell’s comments. Unless I’m reading them wrong or mistaken, I believe he’s under the impression that 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 (Fickell) 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 because he called me in March and he wanted to know about the position switch that James was switched from defensive line to offensive line.
“I said, ‘Yeah, after two weeks of practice of watching James at defensive line, I personally — not other coaches — 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 that you want. If you want to try it out. He did. It turned out he was really good. 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.”
Harbaugh said the conversation with Fickell reached a point of contention in March after Fickell “tried to coach” him into saying something that would help Hudson’s waiver get approved. “I told him, I’m not going to lie,” Harbaugh said. “That I can tell you. I’m going to tell the truth. Didn’t like the version that I was given.”
“I read the article, he asked a question in the article,” Harbaugh said, reading from notes he had taken before Tuesday’s news conference. ” ‘What’s most important? Your personal beliefs, or what’s in the best interests of the kid?’ I can answer that. What’s most important is the truth. And if (Fickell’s) questioning what my personal beliefs are, then that’s what I believe. I believe in being forthright, honest, telling the truth.
“I’m astounded that he’s gotten to where he’s at by not knowing the answer to that question. He keeps trying to make it about that it’s Michigan that blocked the transfer waiver, or Michigan has somehow decided not to grant this waiver. And that’s, again, 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 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 that I’ve been asked to talk about by our compliance department.”
The two have not spoken since, Harbaugh said.
“That was the one time that he called in March,” Harbaugh said. “And I even told him in March, I said, ‘Coach, my understanding of this, you seem to think that 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, 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. I said, 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.”