Big Ten

After being accused of cheating, Jim Harbaugh goes full-on Trump, attacks Paul Finebaum on Twitter for #AlternativeFacts

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USA TODAY

After being accused of cheating, Jim Harbaugh goes full-on Trump, attacks Paul Finebaum on Twitter for #AlternativeFacts

Alternative facts, man. They're going around.

While Jim Harbaugh is perhaps the most powerful person in Ann Arbor, he suddenly has a lot in common with the most powerful man in the world.

The Michigan head football coach — who by the way attended a Barack Obama speech at the university during the 2016 presidential campaign and visited the White House multiple times under our previous president — unleashed a Donald Trump-esque Twitter attack Thursday night, blasting ESPN commentator Paul Finebaum for talking bad about him on TV.

It's Trump-esque not only because of its vitriol and reference to a media member needing to get his facts straight, but also because it includes an error. He wrongly called Paul Finebaum "Pete Finebaum." Though unlike the president's frequent spelling and grammar faux pas, this one might have been intentional.

Anyway, you might be wondering why Harbaugh felt the need to lash out at Finebaum.

It started with Harbaugh making an addition to his coaching staff, bringing in Michael Johnson to be an assistant with the Wolverines. Johnson most recently worked as the head coach at a California high school, but he's also a former NFL offensive coordinator who worked under Harbaugh with the San Francisco 49ers.

But the part of Johnson's bio that has folks flipping out is that he's also the father of Michael Johnson Jr., one of the highest-rated quarterbacks in the 2019 recruiting class.

That fact is causing many to assume that Harbaugh made the hire solely to get into the family's good graces and best position himself to bring the younger Johnson to Michigan.

Finebaum is among those people, and he voiced his opinion that Harbaugh is flat-out cheating during an appearance on ESPN's "Outside the Lines."

"He is an evil genius. I think he's one of the smartest people I've run into in a long time, and most of what he has done is exactly that: genius," Finebaum said of Harbaugh. "This is wrong. It may not be illegal by NCAA standards and bylaws as of this moment, but to me it's cheating. It's blatantly disregarding the spirit of the NCAA rule.

"We all know why he's doing it. And this is the same person who last year accused Nick Saban of cheating, he accused Hugh Freeze of cheating. And in my mind — and I know you can't prove it, and he won't be penalized for it — but he's cheating, and why don't we face up to it. There's no other reason why he would hire this man. It's been done in the past. And you pointed out a couple of years ago it was done, but it's still wrong. And I don't know why the media celebrates Jim Harbaugh for disregarding the NCAA rule book and doing things that are in my mind unethical.

"If this man was such a great coach, then why didn't Jim Harbaugh hire him earlier? Why did he wait till his son was about to become eligible to play at Michigan? And what bothers me — no, no one's ever going to accuse Jim Harbaugh of this, and it's not going to stick. He is that smart. But for someone who likes to go around pointing fingers at everyone else, I think it's time to start pointing fingers at him. This is unethical. It stinks to high heaven, and I don't know why you or the Michigan zealots out there want to keep propping him up."

Here's the full segment from "Outside the Lines," which includes a defense of Harbaugh from writer John U. Bacon.

Finebaum, of course, is a polarizing figure in his own right. He's been a talk-radio host in SEC Country for a long time and joined ESPN within the past few years as a part of the network's expanded SEC coverage.

It seems he struck a nerve with Harbaugh, as the tweet from Thursday night would suggest.

Here's the kicker, though: It turns out the elder Johnson might not even end up coaching at Michigan, perhaps sparking the #AlternativeFacts tweet. The high school where Johnson used to coach tweeted he'd be joining the Wolverines' staff, but a Friday report said Johnson would be joining the Oregon Ducks' coaching staff.

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Pat Fitzgerald, Lovie Smith in top 10 of an intriguing college coach list

Northwestern and Illinois’ college football programs are ranked in the top 10 this year.

Kind of.

One esteemed name in the college football ranks has placed Wildcats head coach Pat Fitzgerald atop the list of the all-time greatest college coaches…ranked as players. Illini coach Lovie Smith ranks at No. 10.

Rich Cirminiello, Director of College Awards for the Maxwell Football Club, compiled the list and he is an excellent follow on Twitter. He has several other noteworthy lists of interest, including the top college football players who are now coaches in the NFL. Psst…spoiler alert: several local connections are on that particular list as well, including Saints head coach Sean Payton (QB, Eastern Illinois) and Ron Rivera (LB, California).

But back to Coach Fitz, who bleeds purple and has emphatically put the NU football program on the map since the mid-90s. He was a two-time All-American in addition to receiving consecutive Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year honors as a linebacker (1995-96). He helped guide the Wildcats to the ’96 Rose Bowl. Since becoming the team’s head coach in 2006, he has led the program to nine bowl games (four wins).

We all know Lovie Smith’s coaching legacy with the Bears and his rebuilding of the Illinois football program, but did you know how much he dominated as a college player? He played for Tulsa from 1976-79, racking up 367 career tackles primarily as a safety. He was a three-time All-Missouri Valley Conference award winner and earned a second-team All-America mention in 1978. He was also named MVC Newcomer of the Year after he tallied 90 tackles as a freshman.

[MORE: Lovie Smith, Mike Tirico discuss systemic racism 

Michigan head coach Jim Harbaugh, who passed for over 11,000 yards in seven seasons as a Chicago Bear, ranked No. 2 on Cirminiello’s list. In a follow-up tweet, Minnesota’s P.J. Fleck, who dominated as a wide receiver at NIU and at nearby Kaneland High School, came in at No. 20. Western Michigan’s Tim Lester —a star player at Wheaton Warrenville South HS— is in at No. 7.

Who said that the Land of Lincoln didn’t have top college football talent?

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Northwestern Wildcats athletic department begins phased return to campus

Professional, collegiate and prep sports have been on hold in Illinois since mid-March but it looks like there may be more light at the end of the tunnel. This time, in Evanston.

Northwestern University announced Thursday that a phased reopening of the athletic department, in tandem with NU’s overall policy for a return to campus, will include student athlete workouts on Monday June 22.

The relaunch of athletics at Northwestern during the COVID-19 pandemic comes as the state of Illinois is progressing in its own planned reopening, as dictated by Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

The sports medicine staff, athletic trainers and student-athletes with post-injury needs were welcomed back earlier this month and other select groups will be admitted back to campus next week.

Athletes will be required to complete a full physical upon arrival in Evanston on June 22. They will be screened before entering on-site facilities by means of a wellness check and a no-touch temperature scan.

Facility access will be managed through one entrance and exit. Locker facilities and lounges will remain closed, though, along with dining centers.

[MORE: Shortened NFL preseason puts big group of players at a disadvantage]

The Wildcats football team, along with both the men’s and women’s basketball programs, are penciled in to begin those voluntary workouts a week from Monday. Each unit should have plenty of motivation once they hit the playing surface.

Head coach Pat Fitzgerald and company are eager to put last year’s 3-9 mark behind them. On the hardwood, Chris Collins’ group needs a quick bounce-back after an 8-23 mark last season while the women’s team, under the tutelage of Big Ten Coach of the Year Joe McKeown, are looking to build off a stellar 2019-20 campaign. They won the their first conference championship since 1989-90 and boasted a school record 26 wins.

 

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