The N&O is reporting that now former assistant coach John Blake made a total of 152 phones calls to agent Gary Wichard in a 235 day period. 61 of those calls came during the two prior to UNC announcing that multiple Tar Heels considering the NFL Draft would return for another season.
John Blake was in frequent communication with sports agent Gary Wichard while Blake was the University of North Carolina's associate head football coach, calling into further question their relationship as the NCAA continues its investigation of the football program.
During the 61 days leading up to the Jan. 4 announcement that six juniors on UNC's football team would stay in school rather than enter the NFL draft, university phone records show that Blake and Wichard never went more than four days without communicating. The records also show 152 communications (phone calls or texts) during a 235-day period between Blake's university-paid number and Wichard's phone.
Asked if it is ever acceptable to have that level of communication between a coach and an agent, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp said in an e-mail: "Whether the level of contact is acceptable or unacceptable depends on what they talked about, and I have no idea what they were discussing. Clearly, Mr. Wichard and Coach Blake have a very close relationship. All things being equal, it's probably better not to have a close personal relationship with a sports agent if you're an NCAA coach."
It is important to note that while this is the first time the public has seen this information, it is likely that the NCAA had it well before now. That is assuming UNC has been as cooperative as they have stated and there is no reason to believe otherwise. I would also point out that besides creating an additional perception issue, the call logs do not really prove anything untoward was happening. In short it is not a smoking gun. UNC chancellor Holden Thorp points out that without knowing the content of the conversations you cannot make a judgment whether the frequency of the phone calls is anything to be concerned about.
Given the timing of the uptick in call volume it is safe bet Blake and Wichard were discussing UNC's potential NFL Draft picks, however that in itself is not against NCAA rules. Blake and Wichard are friends and more so, if Blake thought he could get additional information to augment what UNC was receiving from other channels, I imagine he would do so. Also, as Doc pointed out to me via email, wouldn't this be more damning if any of the UNC players in question actually left for the NFL and signed with Wichard? If Blake was working with Wichard to funnel players in the agent's direction, it did not come to fruition. If you read the call log on the N&O website chronicling the 61 calls in 61 days, the conversations are never lengthy in nature which may or may not mean anything. What we do not know if how often Blake spoke to Wichard from his home phone or the disposable cell phones it has been alleged Blake had? Also unaccounted for is how many 3 AM meetings Blake and Wichard on the 2nd level of the Dogwood Parking Deck to discuss orange crop estimates. Since the NCAA does not prohibit contact between coaches and agents, the phone log is, at worst, another possible sign of something more problematic. But again, everyone knew about Blake and Wichard's relationship so the phone calls are not surprising but at the same time it does add to the already struggling perception that this goes beyond a few players taking benefits from agents. Now, if money happened to change hands, then buckle your seat belts. The fact Blake's lawyer refuses to answer whether his client took money from agents instead calling it a "complicated question" is problematic to say the least.
The other nugget dropped by the N&O is concerning Blake's resume provided to UNC. The resume in question omits any employment where Blake had contact with agents. Now, let's play the worst case scenario perception game where Butch Davis is concerned. On one hand, Davis hires an assistant coach who he had a previous relationship via Davis coaching Blake in high school and other overlaps in employment over the years. When Davis takes the UNC job he puts a staff together and in doing so Davis reaches out to an assistant coach he has known for years to fill one of the slots. Since this was a case of Davis hiring a coach he had a previous relationship with I am willing to bet Davis never even looked at the resume. The resume was pro forma as was the application for employment Blake likely filled out. Davis says now that there were significant gaps of 12 years or so in their working relationship and that he is not able to account for what Blake may have done during those periods. Taking that into consideration, the perception is that Davis did not do a proper vetting of Blake either out of negligence or because he knew what was there and wanted plausible deniability. Understand I am not saying that is the case but rather the perception exists.
The counter to that argument is something Doc pointed out to me via email. Blake had been back in college coaching four years when Davis asked him to join the UNC staff. That means two other schools would have also vetted him not to mention the standard NCAA background check revealed no red flags. So, from a reputation standpoint, Blake was seen as shady. In terms of what the NCAA had or rather did not have plus two other schools, Blake was fine. In other words we are talking about splitting hairs between accepting official clearances vs the word on the street.
The other issue is whether Davis did a proper job supervising Blake and being aware of his activities. The volume of calls to Wichard from Blake on university phones will be used as evidence that Davis should have known Blake was in contact with an agent and brought it to light. The perception here is that Blake was out of control and Davis either was negligent in his supervision or turned a blind eye to maintain plausible deniability. The counter to that what Davis said yesterday:
"I didn't have any idea that they were making that amount of calls. I had no idea. We don't monitor people's phone records. I don't ask guys who they talk to on a day-to-day basis. I'd like to know how come, but I think that's a more appropriate question to ask John. I didn't know that he was talking to him that frequently. I didn't know if he was talking to him once a year, twice a month. I had no idea."
Now, in my opinion Davis did not state this as well as he could have. He says "I didn't know" or "I had no idea" far too often. However, I think his larger point is that no one sits around reviewing call logs nor does he spend time asking his coaches who they talk to on the phone. In fact most people who have fairly reasonable supervisors do not have their phone records checked nor must they answer for who they have spoken with. Companies spend far more time monitoring internet activity than they do phone calls. Given how busy Davis is, I cannot imagine him taking the time to look over phone records or ask Blake, John Shoop, Everett Withers or anyone else in his employ who they talked to on the phone that day. Also, Blake having contact with Wichard or any other agent is technically not an NCAA violation. Does it look bad? Sure as Thorp points out However, Davis had no official reason(i.e. past or present NCAA violations) to actively keep tabs on Blake. Yes, Blake had a shady reputation which Davis may or may not have known about. Davis could have erred on the side of caution and asked his coaches not to be in contact with agents which again means he would have to monitor phone logs to enforce it. According to the N&O Davis did have a policy prohibiting his assistants from recommending agents since he did not want his staff involved in the player-agent relationship.
The bottom line is we cannot really draw any concrete conclusions from the information in the public domain. Phone logs do not mean much without knowing the content of the calls themselves. Said content may not mean much since none of the players who considered the NFL actually left and signed with Wichard. No, the smoking gun here will be any exchange of money which is why having Blake's lawyer call the question "complicated" is disturbing. Then again if Blake was getting money from Wichard it appears to be money poorly spent since only one UNC player actually ended up with Wichard and that was Kentwan Balmer. Were others potentially on the way? That's possible but since it never reached that point we will never know.
It is possible this plays worse in the eyes of the public than what the NCAA ultimately hands down when they decide to put us all out of our misery. It's all questions at this point which tend to lead to other questions. This is similar a loose thread you pull and sometimes it breaks after an inch or sometimes it unravels a significant portion of the cloth. For the moment we have no idea which kind of thread these call logs are or their impact, if any, on the players currently held out of competition. I think there is a great temptation to lump all of these items together. In my mind you are still looking at distinct issues. One is whether X number of players took benefits from agents. The second is the academic issues. The third which shoots off from the first is what was the nature of the relationship between Blake and Wichard. It is possible the NCAA can address one and two but still have to deal with the third. However if there is a connection between one and three, it gets more complicated. The other question concerning Blake and Wichard is what, if anything, are they trying to hide by concealing the time they spent together ten years ago? That may not be relevant to the current NCAA investigation into UNC football but it is still an interesting question.
At any rate, I can assure every day this goes on is a day closer I am to impaling myself with my keyboard. Someone make it stop!