Wednesday, September 8, 2010

N&O story on Blake raises more questions at UNC

UNC associate coach John Blake announced his resignation abruptly Sunday night, and there were two points to that story that made you realize there was much more than what you saw in the official release.

The first was that he would be paid $74,500 out of his base salary of $240,000. So Blake walked away from a $169,500? That's hard to fathom.

The second point - in The News & Observer's story on Monday morning, it reported Raleigh attorney Wade Smith "has been working with Blake." Smith is one of the city's top attorneys, and someone you turn to in real trouble. But why would Blake need Smith?

On Wednesday, we found out. The N&O's front-page splash detailed extensive communications between Blake and agent Gary Wichard. Remember, a newspaper can request such documents under the Freedom of Information act, and I'm sure what happened was the paper asked for them, Carolina realized how much Blake had been in contact with Wichard, and Blake was promptly encouraged to resign.

So to connect the dots - the newspapers seeks the documents, the school sees what they reveal, and the assistant coach gets a lawyer and resigns before the story hits.

First of all, kudos to the paper for pushing hard on the story. While The N&O, like all papers, has suffered cuts, it has rallied the resources to dominate this story.

Second, this raises real questions about how much UNC's own investigations will reveal.

And third, Davis' comments to the paper that he had "no idea" Blake was so connected to Wichard just ring hollow. On Tuesday in Chapel Hill, I listened as UNC tight end Zack Pianalto - once again - said he dropped the ball in the endzone Saturday, and Pianalto refused to say there was pass interference on the play. Pianalto took responsibility for what happened, an example his coach could learn from.

Finally, here's one point to keep in mind. All this eventually rests with Chancellor Holden Thorp, who has been engaged in this process and who ultimately would have to act if he believes the actions of the football program are hurting the school. While UNC's comeback against LSU was exhilirating, I've heard from many Carolina fans who say this whole affair isn't worth the damage to the school's image.

At a news conference when the academic issues broke, Thorp was asked directly if school lacked institutional control of the football team.

"Right now, I think that what we need to do is determine the facts," Thorp said. "We are still in the middle of that, so it's a little early for me to say what it is that would make me feel one way or another about that question."

Some people read that comment as Thorp dodging the issue. I didn't. I read it as Thorp declining to defend the school - he did not say the school had institutional control - and Thorp wisely reserving judgment to see where this process led. Now, Blake is gone, and Davis, if he is to retain the confidence of his chancellor, will have to show he is on top of the issues that have challenged the institution's confidence in his program.

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