The case against John Blake (cont.)
Though the Notice of Allegations suggests the Tar Heels football program was riddled with NCAA malfeasance, head coach Butch Davis was accused of no wrongdoing. Davis was fired in August, months after the investigation had concluded. When it appeared Davis would survive the scandal, he also unloaded blame on Blake. In a press conference on Oct. 4, 2010, Davis -- who has known Blake since he was Blake's biology teacher and assistant football coach at Page High in Sand Springs, Okla. -- said "I'm sorry that I trusted John Blake."
That apology crushed Blake. "It was probably one of the most painful things I've heard," Blake says. "It was devastating for me and my family to hear something like that. Blake believes Davis had little choice but to distance himself from his former friend. "I understand the pressure coach was under," Blake says. "I understand the things brought against me -- unjustly. I understood that, at that time, he felt that the best way for him to relieve some of the pressure that he was under was to say those things."
Blake knew he was the target of the investigation shortly after a North Carolina compliance staff member came to Blake's office on Aug. 3, 2010 and said NCAA investigators needed to ask him a few questions. "Do I need an attorney?" Blake remembers asking. He says he was told he wouldn't need one. When Blake tells this story, his attorney, William Beaver, chuckles. "When someone tells you that you don't need an attorney," Beaver says, "hire two."
After that first interview, during which investigator Chance Miller peppered Blake with questions about his relationship with his friend, Wichard, Blake did just that. He hired Beaver, an Oklahoma classmate who now practices in Orlando, Fla., and Wade Smith, a prominent Raleigh, N.C., criminal defense attorney. Smith will help defend Blake before the COI, but his expertise will come in handy if North Carolina's Secretary of State decides to accuse Blake of breaking that state's athlete-agent law. It's unclear whether that will happen; the Secretary of State's office recently petitioned a North Carolina court to demand that the NCAA turn over the evidence uncovered in its investigation of the North Carolina case, and the NCAA is fighting the petition.
At the COI hearing, Beaver and Smith won't be allowed to speak nearly as much as they're accustomed to in court. Especially when discussing the facts of the case, COI members don't particularly care what attorneys have to say. "When it's factual information, I want to hear from the coach -- not the coach's lawyer," Potuto says. "In part because I want the information from the individual directly involved. In part because when you're talking about individuals in terms of consequences, the penalties can be pretty serious. I don't want to be basing a finding or a penalty on something a lawyer said the coach did or thought or felt or said. When it's that important, I want to hear from the person."
COI members will want Blake to answer this question: Did you attempt to steer North Carolina players to Wichard? "Absolutely not," Blake says. "I never steered anyone to Gary."
Miller and the rest of the enforcement staff will present evidence that they believe proves Blake did. They will present phone records, bank records and interviews in an attempt to prove Blake was a "runner," essentially a recruiter for the agent. Enforcement staffers also will discuss the period near the turn of the century when Blake lived in Southern California. They will say Blake worked for Wichard's agency, Pro Tect Management. Blake will say he did not. COI members will have to decide which side they believe is telling the truth.
According to the Notice of Allegations, the enforcement staff intends to use interviews with former Wichard partner Josh Luchs, former Oklahoma star linebacker and one-time Wichard client Brian Bosworth and former Nebraska assistant coach Marvin Sanders. Luchs discussed his testimony with SI.com in a telephone interview. Sanders, in a telephone interview, said he could not divulge exact details of his testimony, but he did describe how he and Blake crossed paths. Bosworth did not return calls from SI.com, but his testimony is spelled out in North Carolina's response to the NCAA's notice of allegations.
(Through a spokesman, North Carolina athletic director Dick Baddour declined comment, citing the NCAA's request that school officials not discuss specifics of the case.)
Luchs says he told NCAA investigators that before he joined Wichard's company in 2000, Wichard said Luchs would need to be approved by his "partner." That partner, Luchs says, was Blake, who had come to California months after he was fired as Oklahoma's head coach in November 1998. Luchs says Blake, who was not working as a college coach at the time and therefore not bound by NCAA rules, helped Wichard and Luchs recruit Fresno State defensive lineman Alan Harper.
Blake says he never worked with Wichard. He says he went to California with the intention of going into business with Wichard, but he decided quickly that he didn't belong in the agent business. "It's not what I wanted to do," Blake says. "I wanted to be a coach." Asked whether he had an office at Pro Tect, Blake says no. "It was more of a storage room," Blake says. "They had boxes in there. There were old desks in there. I would come in there periodically and sit down."
Luchs remembers the room differently. "If it was a closet, it was a closet with a lovely desk and view of the ocean," Luchs says. "People don't typically hang up pictures of themselves with their players in a closet." Blake's attorneys contend that Blake's name never appeared on Pro Tect's tax returns, though they declined to provide any evidence.
During this line of discussion, the enforcement staff probably will call the committee's attention to a copy of a Pro Tect brochure that claims Blake "heads Pro Tect's football operations." Blake says the brochure was produced before he decided whether he wanted to join forces with Wichard. How long did that decision take? Blake moved to California in 1999. The front of the brochure features a photo of Adam Archuleta as a St. Louis Ram and a photo of Todd Heap as a Baltimore Raven. Neither Archuleta nor Heap entered the NFL until 2001. When the NCAA investigator confronted Blake with the brochure during an interview in 2010, Blake broke down in tears.