UNC assistant's ties to agent at center of NCAA probe

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Less than four weeks before the start of the 2010 season, it’s uncertain whether or not All-American candidate Marvin Austin will suit up in a North Carolina uniform for a regular-season game.  After the latest investigative report from Yahoo! Sports, the uncertainty swirling around the defensive tackle is growing.

According to writers Charles Robinson and Bryan Fischer, and citing three sources close to an investigation into the Tar Heels football program, NCAA investigators have focused their attention on UNC assistant coach John Blake and his relationship with agent and long-time friend Gary Wichard.

The sources said the NCAA’s inquiry into Blake has focused on his one-time position as vice president of football operations for Pro Tect Management – an agency founded and run by Wichard since 1979. Blake is now a defensive line coach for the Tar Heels, and oversees All-ACC tackle Marvin Austin, who is also facing NCAA scrutiny.

The sources said the NCAA is investigating trips Austin took to Florida, as well as his travel and training in California in the summer of 2009, when he worked out at Proactive Sports Performance with former Tar Heel and current Wichard client Kentwan Balmer. …

A training firm for a wide array of athletes, Proactive Sports is located in Thousand Oaks, Calif., less than two miles from Pro Tect Management offices. The website for Proactive boasts 12 clients who are currently signed with Pro Tect Management, and has trained many of Wichard’s draft picks since 2005.

The tentacles of the probe that began at North Carolina has subsequently spread to South Carolina, Alabama, Pittsburgh and Georgia.  A total of nine schools — including Florida, Clemson and East Carolina — have seen NCAA investigators on their campuses since June for a variety of reasons.

 As for the UNC portion of the investigation, Wichard, as expected, has denied any impropriety between he and Blake.  In fact, Wichard hopes that the sole issue the NCAA has with Austin is his relationship with Blake.

“If the center of this controversy is my relationship with John, there’s really no controversy,” Wichard said. “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.”

Later on in the outstanding piece by Robinson and Fischer, there’s an interesting — and, on the surface, damning — exchange that takes place between the writers and Wichard.

Wichard was asked if Blake, the former Oklahoma head coach who met the agent in 1985, had ever been a Pro Tect employee.  Wichard left no gray area in his response, telling Yahoo! in no uncertain terms that “no, no, no, no… He hasn’t worked for me at all.”

When informed that Yahoo! had a Pro Tect brochure listing Blake as “Vice President/Football Operations”, Wichard likely pulled a hammy as he quickly flipped the switch to full spin mode.

“The brochure is [from] like 1997 or whatever,” Wichard said. “He was on the brochure for whatever, dealing with football-related situations. But it has nothing to do with anything. He was not working as a coach at that time. The relevance to me is ridiculous. … It doesn’t prove a thing. It’s absolutely meaningless.”

(If it was so meaningless and irrelevant, why lie when asked about it the first time?)

A couple other key points have been gleaned from the article.  First, Wichard stated that he has not spoken to the NCAA regarding the investigation.  Secondly, Wichard once again stated he has only spoken to Austin on one occasion, and that was to tell the then-junior to remain in school and not enter this past April’s NFL draft.

If the story as a whole is as Wichard has painted it, there are likely no worries on Austin’s end.  

If, which seems more realistic, it’s not?  North Carolina will have a decision to make — if the NCAA hasn’t issued any rulings or given any indications by then — before they pop the top on the 2010 season: go ahead and play Austin, knowing full well that there’s a chance he could be ruled retroactively ineligible.  Or, sit one of their best players on either side of the ball given the fact that he could be declared retroactively ineligible.

Either way, this seems to be a situation that is not going away at any point in the near future.

UNLV goes Ivy in replacing RBs coach poached by North Carolina

LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 12:  Members of UNLV Rebels marching band perform in the stands during UNLV's game against the Wyoming Cowboys at Sam Boyd Stadium on November 12, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. UNLV won 69-66 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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Raided by the ACC, UNLV has officially turned its eyes to the Ivy League for its coaching replacement.

Travis Burkett, the football program has announced, has been hired the Rebels’ running backs coach.  Burkett will replace DeAndre Smith, who left last week for a job at North Carolina.

Smith had been with Tony Sanchez‘s program for just three months or so, coming to Las Vegas by way of Purdue.

The past 10 seasons, Burkett served as an assistant at Cornell.  Prior to that, he was a graduate assistant at Bucknell.

This will be Burkett’s first job at any capacity at the FBS level.  His new employer added the following in announcing his addition:

At UNLV, Burkett inherits a rushing attack that stood 15th in the nation last fall with 241.5 yards per game, which ranked fourth in program history and was the most since 1979. All three of the team’s top rushers return in 2017.

Vandy turns to familiar face to fill coaching role of assistant fighting cancer

NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 22:  Josh Crawford #22 of the Vanderbilt Commodores celebrates a touchdown against the Tennessee State Tigers scored by teammate Trent Sherfield #10 during the second half at Vanderbilt Stadium on October 22, 2016 in Nashville, Tennessee.  (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)
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With an assistant fighting a significant health issue, Derek Mason has turned to someone very familiar with the Vanderbilt football program to fill the coaching void.

Vandy confirmed Monday that Warren Belin has been hired as the Commodores’ outside linebackers coach. Belin will, at least temporarily, replace Osia Lewis, who stepped down from his job as he battles liver cancer. Lewis will transition into an of-field role within the program as he fights the disease.

The announcement came on the same day Vandy kicked off spring practice.

From 2002 through 2009, Belin was Vandy’s linebacker’s coach under Bobby Johnson. He was at Wake Forest in the same role from 2013-15.

Last season, he was with the Demon Deacons in an off-field role as director of high school relations.

Blocked from Pitt and Syracuse, Gus Edwards’ transfer from Miami to Rutgers is official

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Gus Edwards #7 of the Miami Hurricanes rushes for a touchdown during a game against the Arkansas State Red Wolves at Sunlife Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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In opting to leave Miami in late January, Gus Edwards was restricted by the university from transferring to two of his top choices in Pittsburgh and Syracuse as they were on this coming season’s schedule. A little over a month later, the Staten Island native, who wanted to transfer and move closer to home as he was a new father, has found his new college football home in the same area of the country.

On its official Twitter account earlier Monday, Rutgers announced that Edwards has transferred into the Scarlet Knights football program. As Edwards will be coming in as a graduate transfer, he’ll be eligible to play immediately in 2017.

The upcoming season will be the running back’s final year of eligibility.

Edwards was third on the team this past season in rushing with 290 yards. For his Hurricanes career, the 6-1, 230-pound back ran for 977 yards and 12 touchdowns on 186 carries.

A foot injury suffered in summer camp cost Edwards the entire 2015 season. He received a medical redshirt for that season.

Mississippi State announces contract extension for Dan Mullen

STARKVILLE, MS - NOVEMBER 5:  Head coach Dan Mullen of the Mississippi State Bulldogs celebrates with fans after the end of an NCAA college football game at Davis Wade Stadium on November 5, 2016 in Starkville, Mississippi. Mississippi State beat the Texas A&M Aggies 35-28. (Photo by Butch Dill/Getty Images)
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With its Egg Bowl rivals knee/neck-deep in controversy — and with said rival reportedly trying to bring it down as well at one point — Mississippi State has taken the time to put a positive face on the current state of its football program.

The Bulldogs announced Monday night that they have reached an agreement on a four-year contract extension with head football coach Dan Mullen.  The new deal means Mullen is signed through February of 2021.

According to the school, Mullen’s financial package will be $4.5 million for 2017.  Mullen was paid $4.2 million in 2016, a figure that was seventh in the SEC according to USA Today‘s salary database.

“I am very thankful to the University and athletic administration for their belief in me,” Mullen, the subject of myriad coaching carousel rumors the last handful of years, said in a statement. “We have built a special program over the last eight years, creating a culture where winning is expected while achieving that in the toughest division in college football. I am proud of what we have accomplished, and I am truly excited about the direction we are heading as a program. This extension allows my family a long-term future here in Starkville, a place we are proud to call home.”

Since taking over as MSU’s coach in 2009, Mullen has guided the Bulldogs to a 61-42 record overall and 29-35 in conference play.  In those eight seasons, the best divisional finish was second in 2014.  In the other seven seasons, they were either fifth (five times) or fourth (twice) in the SEC West.

The Bulldogs have gone to a bowl game each of the past seven seasons, the longest such streak in school history.  They’re also 5-3 against Ole Miss under Mullen.

“Dan has brought unprecedented success to Bulldog football and is one of the elite coaches in the country,” athletic director John Cohen said. “From a school-record seven straight bowl games to our performance in the classroom, he continues to raise the standard of excellence.”