CHAPEL HILL — North Carolina coach Butch Davis apologized on Monday for an NCAA investigation that has "tainted" the football program.
The fourth-year coach also made his strongest and most extensive comments yet on former associate head coach John Blake, whose relationship with NFL agent Gary Wichard is at the center of the NCAA's investigation into possible improper contact with agents at UNC.
At the end of his 20-minute news conference Monday, Davis said he was sorry that he trusted Blake and that he would have fired him had he known about Blake's financial ties to Wichard.
"Let me tell you, here's how I feel: I am very sorry that all of this stuff has tainted the football program," Davis said. "And as the head football coach, I take a tremendous amount of responsibility for all of the football-related issues. I'm the head guy."
"I'm sorry that it has affected the football program," he said. "But I'm going to tell you what I'm more sorry about, I'm sorry that I trusted John Blake."
Blake's attorneys, Wade Smith and William Beaver, last week told The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer that Blake had received money they characterized as loans from Wichard before coming to work at UNC. On Monday, Smith and Beaver said Wichard provided "gifts" to Blake to pay for Blake's son's private school tuition while Blake was coaching at North Carolina.
Blake resigned on Sept. 5 after three seasons and one game as UNC's top assistant and recruiting coordinator.
Blake, suspended UNC defensive tackle Marvin Austin and former UNC defensive tackle Kentwan Balmer have testified in the North Carolina Secretary of State's investigation into possible illegal dealings between agents and UNC football players.
Davis said he did not know of Blake's private financial dealings while he was an assistant at UNC.
"I can promise you and tell you, that if we would've ever known that if any of these allegations were absolutely true, Coach Blake would have been dismissed," Davis said. "I would have fired him."
The relationship between Davis and Blake goes back more than 30 years to when Davis taught Blake at Charles Page High in Sand Springs, Okla. Davis was also an assistant coach in 1976 and 1977 on the Sand Springs football team, where Blake starred before going to play defensive tackle for the University of Oklahoma.
Of Davis' time with Blake in high school, Beaver said Monday: "They've had a relationship since that time. Now it's had a period of interruption, but they've certainly coached at a number of stops together and maintained a relationship throughout. It's not like they don't know each other quite well."
The two worked together on the same coaching staff on the Dallas Cowboys for the 1993 and 1994 seasons, with Davis as the defensive coordinator and Blake as the defensive line coach.
Davis left for the University of Miami in 1995, while Blake stayed with the Cowboys for another season.
Davis later hired Blake in December 2006 at UNC. At the time, Davis praised Blake, saying "his commitment to excellence on and off the field is unmatched."
With Blake as the top recruiter, UNC quickly added Austin, receiver Greg Little and tight end Zack Pianalto to the first recruiting class, which ranked No. 14 nationally, according to Scout.com.
The 2009 recruiting class, ranked No. 6 by Scout.com, was the best of Blake's tenure.
On Aug. 12, Davis defended Blake as a "very good teacher," and when Blake's resignation was announced on Sept. 5, Davis, through a statement released by the school, said: "Knowing John as I have over the years, it is clear that this was a difficult decision for him to make. I know how much John loves the players, coaching and the game of football."
On Sept. 7, Davis attempted to qualify the nature of his relationship with Blake. He said there were two 12-year gaps in their relationship, after Blake went to Oklahoma and after Davis went to Miami.
It appears that at least early in Davis' coaching career, he was close with Blake. Davis' first wife, Carol King, said Blake came to their house for dinner "quite often" in Sand Springs.
Contacted in Oklahoma by telephone, King said she could provide only a few details about the early relationship between Davis and Blake. She said that when Blake was in school at Oklahoma and Davis was coaching at Oklahoma State, Blake traveled to Stillwater, Okla., to visit Davis a couple of times during the offseason.
King said that after she and Davis divorced, she saw Davis and his current wife, Tammy, at Blake's wedding. At the time, Davis and Blake were together on the Cowboys staff, she said.
Blake left Dallas to become Oklahoma's head coach in 1996 but was fired in 1998, after a 12-22 record in three seasons.
After a five-year absence from coaching that included training players for Wichard in California, Blake went on to coach at Mississippi State in 2003 and Nebraska from 2004 to 2006 before Davis hired him at UNC.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 919-829-8938