When John Blake resigned from North Carolina earlier this month, the now-former assistant head coach/recruiting coordinator/offensive line coach said in a statement that “it has become apparent to me over the course of the past few weeks that my presence has become a distraction… to this great University.”
Much like lopping off a pinky in an attempt to stave off an advanced form of cancer, though, it could prove to be too little and much too late for the Tar Heels football program. And head coach Butch Davis.
In a damning piece of investigative journalism by Yahoo! Sports, documentation obtained by the website reveals apparent financial ties between Blake and veteran NFL agent Gary Wichard. The relationship between two long-time friends has reportedly been at or near the center of the NCAA’s investigation of the Tar Heels football program; North Carolina’s Secretary of State’s office is also conducting an investigation separate from the NCAA’s, and has questioned Blake in one facet of their probe
It’s the documentation uncovered by Yahoo!, however, that paints the most detailed — and potentially damaging — picture of Blake’s time in Chapel Hill. Those documents show a connection between Blake and Pro Tect Management, a company founded and still headed by Wichard. While Wichard has denied anything but a personal relationship with Blake, the paper trail seems to indicate a financial one as well.
• At least six wire transfers from Wichard’s private bank [to Blake] – The First National Bank of Long Island – to Blake.
• A $45,000 personal loan to Blake from The First National Bank of Long Island.
• A Pro Tect Management credit card issued in Blake’s name.
Additionally, there are documents that seem to show at least one trip taken by current UNC defensive lineman Marvin Austin to California was on Pro Tect Management’s dime.
A copy of a hotel receipt obtained by Yahoo! Sports displays Austin as a guest at the Residence Inn in Westlake, Calif., from July 23 to Aug. 1, 2009. Located a half mile from the Pro Tect offices, the hotel charged $1,802.08 to an American Express, while listing Austin’s name above “Pro-tect Management” [sic]. The bill, which was authenticated by a hotel employee, also lists the address of Fadde Mikhail, a marketing agent who currently represents two Wichard clients – Buffalo Bills running back C.J. Spiller and New York Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Additionally, the hotel employee confirmed to Yahoo! Sports that the rewards number on the bill belongs to Mikhail.
Wichard has previously denied any involvement in trips taken by Austin.
In essence, if the allegations made in this report are accurate — and there’s very little reason to believe it’s anything but bulletproof — Butch Davis had on his staff an assistant who fits the dictionary definition of a paid runner for an agent. That could prove to be bad news, to put it mildly, for both the university in general and Davis specifically.
According to the Raleigh News & Observer, a “Termination by University for Cause” clause in Davis’ contract states in part that he’s subject to dismissal if a violation is committed by an assistant and the “coach had reason to know or should have known through the exercise of due diligence”. In other words, Davis is very much in jeopardy of losing his job — along with millions of dollars — because of the fiscal actions allegedly taken by one of his trusted assistants, even if Davis had no knowledge of Blake’s actions.
As for the university, the good news is they have cooperated fully with the NCAA’s investigations. The bad news is the university may very well have employed a runner for an agent. The magnitude of what that development could bring cannot be overstated.
Those sanctions the NCAA handed down on USC, the dozens of scholarships lost, two-year bowl ban and four years probation, among others? By the time this is all said and done, that could very well look like a slap on the wrist.
And the kind of leniency UNC officials will be pleading for.