NCAA focuses on UNC coach

Associate head coach John Blake's association with an agent is now in question.

Staff WriterAugust 10, 2010 

UNC associate coach John Blake, right, has been a longtime colleague of Tar Heels coach Butch Davis.

ROBERT WILLETT - RWILLETT@NEWSOBSERVER.COM

— A part of the NCAA's investigation into the University of North Carolina's football program has turned to associate head coach John Blake and his relationship with agent Gary Wichard, according to Wichard.

Reached by phone last week, Wichard - an NFL agent and longtime acquaintance of Blake's based in California - would not comment about his relationship with Blake because he said Blake is "involved" in the investigation at UNC.

The NCAA has launched investigations into allegations of impermissible contact between sports agents and college football players at several schools, including UNC. Last month, NCAA investigators interviewed Tar Heels senior defensive tackle Marvin Austin and senior wide receiver Greg Little. Investigators were back on UNC's campus last week.

In comments that were published Monday in a Yahoo! Sports story about the investigation into North Carolina's football program, Wichard said he has not been contacted by the NCAA. He also denied any improper dealings with Austin, whose position coach at UNC is Blake, 49.

"If the center of this controversy is my relationship with John, there's really no controversy," Wichard told Yahoo! Sports. "If that's what [the NCAA] is investigating, I think it's just absurd. ... I hope - I really, truly hope - that Marvin Austin's whole case is based on me and John Blake. I hope that for Marvin Austin's sake. At the end of the day, there's nothing to investigate."

Wichard's current clients include former UNC defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer, a San Francisco 49ers first-round pick in 2008 who was teammates for one season with Austin. He was also coached by Blake. Wichard also signed Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie receiver Arrelious Benn from the University of Illinois. In UNC's media guide, Austin lists Benn as his "best friend on another team."

UNC has declined to make Blake, who is also the team's recruiting coordinator, or Austin available for comment. UNC athletic director Dick Baddour said Monday he would not comment on Blake or any part of the NCAA investigation.

Asked before the Yahoo! report was published about the role of coaches and agents, UNC coach Butch Davis said, "There's not one single coach that I've ever known that's tried to get involved in how to pick agents for kids."

The link between Wichard and Blake goes back 25 years to the University of Oklahoma, where the two met during a pickup basketball game on campus, Wichard said in the Yahoo! report.

Wichard described Blake as a close friend and said he is the godfather to Blake's son.

The NCAA questioned the relationship between Wichard and Blake 13 years ago when Blake was Oklahoma's head coach. Blake invited Wichard to an Oklahoma game and allowed him access to the coaches' building and sidelines, according to a Tulsa World article published on Dec. 21, 1997.

A spokesman for Oklahoma's compliance office said the NCAA inquiry did not result in any sanctions or punishment.

After Blake was fired from the Oklahoma job in 1998, in the wake of a 12-22 record in three seasons, he worked as the vice president of football operations for Pro Tect Management Corp. Wichard is the founder of Pro Tect Management, according to its website.

In the Yahoo! report, Wichard said Blake did not work for him.

However, the online report cites a Pro Tect Management brochure from 2001 that lists as Blake as one of Wichard's employees.

An article from the Tulsa World published on Feb. 16, 2001, also quotes Blake's biography from Pro Tect Management's website.

"Together with Gary, I can utilize what I've learned and be there for our clients to help lead them down the road to NFL prominence," Blake is quoted as saying in the article.

Butch Davis' relationship with Blake covers more than 30 years, to when Davis was Blake's high school biology teacher in Sand Springs, Okla., in 1976 and 1977. Davis and Blake went on to work together on the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff from 1993 to 1995, and in December 2006, Davis hired Blake from Nebraska, where he was a defensive line coach, to join him in Chapel Hill.

Asked if there was cause for concern when Davis hired Blake at UNC in 2006, Baddour said, "No."

Asked if he knew about Blake's relationship with Wichard, Baddour declined to comment.

When UNC's practice opened Friday, Blake took the field with the rest of the coaching staff and players. Austin, a three-year starter, began drills with the second team. Practice was open to the media for 45 minutes on Monday, and again Austin was working with the second team.

According to UNC's records, Blake's contract is worth $240,000 annually, and he has one year remaining on his current deal. His original contract, signed when he was hired, includes a clause that states he can be dismissed for cause for committing NCAA violations.

jp.giglio@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8938

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