Sun Sep 05 07:52pm EDT
My inbox can tell you that North Carolina defensive line coach John Blake has his share of defenders after being dragged into the sprawling NCAA inquiry at UNC earlier this summer for his longstanding friendship with pro agent Gary Wichard. As with the rest of the investigation so far, though, it seems where there's smoke, the flames are sure to follow: Blake is officially stepping down as of this afternoon, one day after more than a dozen NCAA-related suspensions helped cost the Heels their season opener against LSU.
The university's official statement is characteristically tight-lipped, never venturing anywhere near the reason for Blake's resignation except to note, according to athletic director Dick Baddour, that Blake had agreed "he would step down if he felt his presence with the football program would become a distraction." If there are any strong connections linking Blake to defensive tackle Marvin Austin or any UNC player's presence at a California gym owned by Wichard, and where Blake once worked between coaching jobs, "distraction" may be an understatement – and that's before you start asking questions about Blake's potential involvement in other agent-related shenanigans and/or the academic fraud investigation that began dropping bodies from the lineup in earnest last week.
One of Blake's former players at Carolina, NFL rookie Cam Thomas, is already on record telling reporters that another former UNC defensive lineman, Wichard client Kentwan Balmer, footed the bill for Thomas and Marvin Austin (then teammates) to work out at Wichard's gym last year. Austin has also reportedly been questioned about driving Balmer's SUV and staying in his apartment.
On the bright side, at least Blake has the opportunity to be remembered for something other than stocking Oklahoma's cupboard during three ill-fated seasons as OU's head coach in the late nineties for the Sooners' 2000 BCS championship run under Bob Stoops, if that thing is helping bring down another program that seemed on the verge of a breakthrough under Butch Davis. At this rate, we won't know what might have been for Carolina for at least another six or eight years or so, or whenever the Heels finally dig themselves out from under the mountain of sanctions that seem to be sitting about their head, just waiting to be dropped.
- - -
Matt Hinton is on Twitter: Follow him @DrSaturday.