William Beaver, Blake’s Orlando-based lawyer, said in a teleconference call with reporters that Wichard gave Blake money for the tuition once in 2008 and twice more in 2009. Beaver said Wichard is the godfather of Blake’s son. The lawyers did not say how much Wichard gave Blake.
Beaver also confirmed that while coaching at North Carolina, Blake received a $45,000 bank loan from the same bank Wichard uses in New York. Beaver and Wade Smith, Blake’s Raleigh-based lawyer, said they didn’t know why Blake got the loan from Wichard’s bank rather than from somewhere closer to home.
On Thursday, Beaver had said the last money Wichard provided to Blake was “if not over three years ago, right around three years ago.” On Monday, Beaver said he was hurried last week and didn’t have a chance to adequately review the records before a teleconference call with reporters Thursday.
North Carolina announced Blake’s hiring in December 2006, three years and nine months ago.
Blake’s lawyers also confirmed that Blake has spoken to Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, but did not confirm reports that Blake encouraged Dareus to sign with Wichard. The NCAA suspended Dareus for the first two games of the season for receiving impermissible benefits.
Beaver said Blake “has testified that he has not functioned in a manner that in his mind has attempted to funnel, push, direct any athlete toward Gary Wichard.”
On Monday, North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis said he was sorry he trusted Blake and would have fired him if he had known about his financial ties to Wichard.
“I’m sorry that it has affected the football program,” Davis said at his weekly news conference. “But I’m going to tell you what I’m more sorry about, I’m sorry that I trusted John Blake.”
When UNC found out
Blake resigned Sept. 5 and was paid a $74,500 buyout. North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour said last week in a statement that the school first learned that Blake had accepted money from Wichard during an NCAA interview with Blake on Aug. 31.
Baddour said Monday that, judging by NCAA interviews with Blake, he doesn’t know whether the exchanges of money between Wichard and Blake violated an NCAA rule.
Wichard is scheduled to be interviewed this week by investigators for the N.C. Secretary of State’s Office in their probe of possible violations of the Uniform Athlete Agent Act. The law requires agents to register to recruit athletes with college eligibility and bans gifts or promises of anything of value to athletes before they sign. Howard Silber, Wichard’s lawyer, said his client is cooperating fully. Silber declined to discuss the exchanges of money with Blake in detail, but said Wichard has nothing to hide. “The payments are completely unrelated to John’s employment as a coach in North Carolina or anywhere else,” Silber said, “and of course completely unrelated to any referral of players.”
Did Blake plug Wichard?
Citing unnamed sources, Yahoo! Sports and ESPN.com reported that Dareus told NCAA investigators that Blake talked to him on the phone and encouraged him to consider signing with Wichard.
Blake got to know Dareus as a high school student in Birmingham, Ala., and Blake tried to recruit him to North Carolina. Beaver confirmed reports that at Alabama, Dareus has spoken with Blake, and that Dareus told Blake of his mother’s illness and that Dareus was being besieged by agents.
Beaver did not confirm for reporters that Blake spoke to Dareus about Wichard. “It was not a recruiting call,” Beaver said.
Alabama head football coach Nick Saban said Monday that he did not know about any connection between Blake and Dareus.
Yahoo! report disputed
Yahoo! Sports also reported that Dareus told NCAA investigators that Blake called then-South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders to suggest he sign with Wichard. Saunders, from Durham, has been dismissed from the South Carolina team.
His father, Barry Saunders, a metro columnist for The News & Observer, declined to comment for this story. But Wade Smith, one of Blake’s lawyers, questioned the information on Saunders.
“We believe we can say on excellent authority that Weslye Saunders has not been connected with John since he was a high school player,” Smith said.
Last week, Blake’s lawyers confirmed that Blake has received money from Wichard, calling the exchanges “loans.” They also said Blake had a credit card from Pro Tect Management, Wichard’s company, which has since been closed. Beaver said Monday that the card had a $5,000 limit and was used to purchase items such as T-shirts for a camp Blake ran when he was out of coaching.
The lawyers said Blake encountered financial difficulties after he was fired as head coach at Oklahoma in 1998. About the same time, the construction of a large, expensive house for him was completed.
They said the house did not sell for 16 months, and said payments on the house plus rent that was due in California caused Blake to turn to Wichard, his friend for 27 years now, for financial help.
Nonetheless, Blake has maintained an expensive lifestyle in North Carolina. Tax records show he purchased a home in Durham for $533,500 on June 25, 2008.
On Dec. 31, 2008, Blake paid taxes on a 2007 Mercedes valued at $68,920. His lawyers said they didn’t know why Blake would need gifts to pay for private school for his son during the same period, but speculated that Wichard might have given the money out of desire to do something for his godson.
“As we’ve consistently explained, [Blake and Wichard] are extremely close,” Beaver said. “It’s more like brothers. It’s a well-developed, very close relationship over almost 30 years.”