CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Attorneys for former North Carolina assistant coach John Blake say there was nothing seedy about loans their client received from longtime friend and sports agent Gary Wichard, and there was never an arrangement to direct players to Wichard once they left for the NFL.
Florida-based attorney William H. Beaver II said Wichard was trying to help Blake, who encountered financial trouble after being fired as the head coach at Oklahoma a dozen years ago.
Beaver wouldn't specify how much money and said no funds were provided in the past three years or so, roughly around the same time that Blake was preparing for his first season with Butch Davis and the Tar Heels.
"Regardless of the loans or the amounts, there was nothing wrong with one good friend assisting another," Beaver said Thursday.
Howard Silber, an attorney representing Wichard, didn't immediately return a call for comment.
The school learned of the financial transactions — first reported by Yahoo! Sports — when Blake met Aug. 31 with NCAA investigators looking into agent-related benefits and possible academic violations in the football program.
The reports of the loans overshadowed news Thursday that safety Da'Norris Searcy had been cleared to play in Saturday's game against East Carolina, leaving the Tar Heels (1-2) with nine players whose status remains in question due to the ongoing probe.
In a statement, athletic director Dick Baddour said that the financial transactions weren't a violation or cause for the school to fire Blake in and of themselves.
"Nevertheless, we weren't comfortable with what we learned," said Baddour, and Blake resigned less than a week later while saying he had become a distraction.
Wade Smith, a Raleigh-based attorney also representing Blake, said the loans between Wichard and Blake weren't improper.
"Every time I look at the entire landscape here, it seems to me that ... there's an enormous amount of smoke," Smith said. "And the university could be excused for looking at that smoke and being concerned about it. But when you get beyond the smoke, there's not any fire."
Davis said he didn't know about Wichard's loans when he hired Blake. He also said he wouldn't resign despite a review that has bruised the school's reputation both academically and athletically.
"Certainly, I'm disappointed that a lot of these things have happened," Davis said. "You clearly wish that they hadn't happened, and we're going to do everything that we can in the future to ensure that they don't happen again."
The NCAA is also looking into a pair of trips defensive tackle Marvin Austin took to California in 2009 as well as three trips to Miami earlier this year. Beaver said that Blake didn't know Austin had traveled to California to train with former Tar Heel teammate — and Wichard client — Kentwan Balmer at a facility a short drive from Wichard's office.
Christopher Lyons, Austin's attorney, said Austin has had contact with Wichard, but he wouldn't specify how much and added that Blake never tried to steer the NFL prospect toward Wichard or any other agent. Lyons said one of Austin's former high school coaches paid for him to fly to California, and Austin believed Balmer — then with the NFL's San Francisco 49ers — was paying for accommodations while there.
"It was not in any way that this was arranged by coach Blake," Lyons said.
Yahoo! Sports reported that there were at least six wire transfers from Wichard's bank to Blake, as well as a $45,000 personal loan from that bank to Blake. A credit card was also issued in Blake's name tied to Wichard's agency, Pro Tect Management. Beaver said the bank loan had nothing to do with Wichard and that the credit card account was opened to help Blake pay for expenses for running a football camp in California years ago while he was between coaching jobs.
That credit card, Beaver said, has been closed for about three years.
The coach's financial troubles grew after he bought a custom-built house — "One maybe could say, too significant of a home," Smith said — while at Oklahoma. After he was fired, the house didn't sell for 16 months, leaving Blake with a mortgage payment that Beaver estimated was around $4,800 per month.
In addition, Blake lost money in failed business ventures. Wichard began loaning money to Blake, though Beaver said there are no records since they were close friends. Blake has long tried to pay back some of the money, Beaver said, but the loans were never fully repaid.
Both Blake and Austin recently testified with investigators from the North Carolina Secretary of State's office as they look into whether the state's sports agent laws were broken. And despite saying the loans weren't improper, Blake's attorneys also acknowledged it probably wasn't the best idea for a college coach to take loans from an agent — friendship or not.
"Has he maybe exercised in retrospect less-than-perfect judgment?" Beaver asked. "That's possible."
AP Sports Writer Joedy McCreary contributed to this report.