Blake called Suh's family

Phone records show contact

Staff WritersOctober 6, 2010 

Phone records released Tuesday show that former UNC associate head football coach John Blake last year placed calls to agent Gary Wichard's cell phone at times within minutes of calls to the family of prized 2010 draft prospect Ndamukong Suh of Nebraska.

On Monday, University of Nebraska coach Bo Pelini told the Omaha World-Herald that he recalled there being concerns over possible contact between John Blake and Suh during Suh's time as a student-athlete at Nebraska.

The phone records, obtained through an open records request, don't show the content of the phone calls. Blake has denied through lawyers that he steered any player to Wichard or other agents as investigators continue to probe Blake's ties to agents while he coached the Tar Heels.

The disclosure comes after Blake's lawyer acknowledged that Blake received payments from Wichard while on the UNC staff. Blake's connections with the agent have drawn scrutiny since July when UNC disclosed that it was under investigation by the NCAA.

Suh, who was the second selection in this year's NFL draft after being named a finalist for the Heisman Trophy, said Tuesday in an interview that Blake is a good friend and didn't push an agent on him.

Suh said he didn't have any contact with Wichard in the agent process, and Wichard was not one of the final three agents he considered.

"In no instance did he try to push an agent on me of any kind," Suh said.

Suh signed with Eugene Parker and Roosevelt Barnes of Maximum Sports Management on Jan. 27. The Detroit Lions made him the No. 2 pick in the NFL draft on April 22.

The News & Observer obtained the records for Blake's cell phone and desk phone related to six numbers associated with Suh and his family. Previously, the newspapers obtained records of Blake's calls with Wichard.

The records cover Blake's cell phone from Oct. 31, 2009, to June 22, 2010, and his desk phone from May 11, 2009, to Aug. 30, 2010.

They show a total of 19 communications between Blake and Suh or his family members. The records do not distinguish between phone calls and text messages.

UNC associate sports information director Kevin Best said school officials didn't know anything about Blake's phone calls to Suh before the NCAA review and that the calls never came up during the course of the investigation.

Blake and others have talked with investigators from the North Carolina Secretary of State's office. On Tuesday, Wichard spoke to investigators for roughly three hours by teleconference, according to Wichard's lawyer, Howard Silber, who declined further comment to The Associated Press.

Wade Smith, Blake's Raleigh-based lawyer, said he could not immediately comment. Efforts to reach Silber, were unsuccessful.

Blake's phone records show him in some cases calling a number for Suh's sister, Ngum, immediately before or after calling Wichard. For example:

On Nov. 5, Blake had a one-minute communication with Ngum Suh's number at 7 p.m. At 7:02 p.m., Blake called Wichard's cell phone and talked for 19 minutes.

On Dec. 7, Blake had a call for six minutes with Ngum Suh's number at 7:12 p.m. At 7:18 p.m., Blake called Wichard's cell phone and talked for 15 minutes.

Records show that Blake continued to call Suh or his family members after Suh selected an agent in late January - all the way through and beyond April's NFL draft.

There were four calls to Suh in February. There was one in March. Blake placed four calls to the family in April, including three on his draft day. Blake also made two calls in June, records show.

Ngum Suh is listed as director of media and philanthropy for "The Agency Sports Management and Marketing" on her brother's website, suh90.com.

She played soccer at Mississippi State when Blake coached there in 2003, and developed a friendship with Blake, according to published reports. Blake coached one season at Mississippi State and served as Nebraska's defensive line coach from 2004 to 2006.

Blake recruited Suh to Nebraska and coached him for two seasons there before joining coach Butch Davis' staff at North Carolina in December of 2006.

On Monday, Nebraska's Pelini told the World-Herald he remembered a concern over Blake contacting Suh.

Pelini said he asked Jeff Jamrog, Nebraska's assistant athletic director for football, to call North Carolina and handle the matter. Jamrog said he also recalled the instance but did not provide details of contact between the schools. It was unclear whether Nebraska contacted UNC.

"I remember something coming up, but I don't know what the extent of it was," Pelini said.

Suh's mother, Bernadette Suh, said no one should infer that the phone calls with Blake were about agents.

"We sat down as a family and made our own decision on what agents we wanted to go to," she said. "No one recommended anyone to us."

Asked about the content of the calls, she said that Blake did not try to recommend Wichard to her son.

"It didn't happen," she said. "Even if he did, it's none of your business - it's nobody's business."

Suh is the second high-profile draft prospect outside the North Carolina program with whom Blake has been in contact. Citing unidentified sources, Yahoo! Sports reported that Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus told NCAA investigators that Blake recommended Wichard to him in a phone conversation last summer. ESPN.com had a similar report based on unnamed sources.

Lawyers for Blake confirmed that he and Dareus spoke about Dareus' ailing mother and the notion that Dareus was being hounded by agents. They did not confirm that Blake spoke with Dareus about Wichard.

Former UNC player Kentwan Balmer has also said through lawyers that Blake did not steer him to sign with an agent. Balmer, now with the Seattle Seahawks, signed with Wichard after the 2007 football season.

Balmer, whose lawyer is also Wichard's lawyer, says in an affidavit that has not been made public but has been provided to investigators that he had approached Blake about Wichard and asked if he knew the agent and what he thought of him.

"In response to those questions," Balmer says in the affidavit, "Coach Blake simply told me that he thought Gary Wichard was a good guy and he was a very successful agent and had been doing it a long time ... at no time did John Blake consult with me in any fashion whatsoever regarding any agent."

Blake's lawyers have acknowledged that Wichard has given Blake money, which they have characterized as loans or gifts to Blake, whom they have said has had financial problems. The most recent exchanges came once in 2008 and twice in 2009 and were represented by the lawyers as gifts to pay for private school tuition for Blake's son, who is Wichard's godson.

Blake resigned on Sept. 5 and was paid a $74,500 buyout.

ktysiac@charlotteobserver.com or 919-829-8942

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service