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John Blake denies working with agent

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- Former North Carolina associate head coach John Blake said he never worked to steer players to late NFL agent Gary Wichard.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated released Wednesday, Blake denied wrongdoing as he prepares to attend the school's hearing Friday with the NCAA infractions committee in Indianapolis.

"It's important to me that they know (I'm) an honest and good man," Blake said. "We all make mistakes in life. But my character, my integrity means a lot to me."

Blake's relationship with Wichard -- a longtime friend who died of cancer earlier this year -- became a key part of the investigation into improper benefits and academic misconduct within the football program.

According to the notice of allegations, Blake received more than $31,000 in financial transfers from Wichard from 2007-09, though his attorneys have described those as loans between friends during financial trouble that lingered after Blake was fired as Oklahoma's coach in 1998.

Blake said money from Wichard helped pay for private school tuition for his teenage son, who was Wichard's godson.

Blake also said he received a $45,000 loan from Wichard's bank in 2007 to consolidate debt and that no one consigned the loan. His attorneys said the loan was repaid, but they didn't know if Blake was the only person to make payments.

Blake resigned after the Tar Heels' opener in 2010. Fourteen players missed at least one game and seven were forced to sit out the entire season amid the probe, which ultimately led to the firing of head coach Butch Davis.

Davis, who had known Blake since coaching him in high school, said last fall that he was "sorry" he trusted Blake.

"It was probably one of the most painful things I've heard," Blake said. "It was devastating for me and my family to hear something like that."

Blake's phone records at UNC showed hundreds of calls between Blake and Wichard, though Blake said those became more frequent after Wichard was diagnosed with cancer in early 2010. Blake said he didn't reveal that when asked by NCAA investigators because he had promised not to reveal Wichard's diagnosis.

According to the SI.com report, Blake's attorneys have affidavits from players he coached -- including UNC's Marvin Austin and Nebraska's Ndamukong Suh -- stating Blake never tried to steer them to Wichard.

The NCAA has also accused Blake of lying when he denied working for Wichard's firm -- Pro Tect Management -- after leaving Oklahoma.

The firm was listed as a previous employer on a credit report from July 2010 and he had once been listed as "vice president of football operations" on a Pro Tect brochure, according to the notice.

Blake said he moved to California with plans to go into business with Wichard, but decided he'd rather get back into coaching. He served as an assistant at Mississippi State and Nebraska before being hired at UNC in 2006.