Five and a half years after resigning from the University of North Carolina amid an NCAA investigation, Lamar University defensive line coach John Blake is joining the Buffalo Bills in the same role.
Lamar head coach Ray Woodard confirmed Monday to the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise that the Bills requested permission to interview Blake to replace defensive line coach Karl Dunbar, whom Buffalo abruptly fired Sunday. Lamar had hired Blake last month.
The Bills announced on Tuesday that they agreed to terms with Blake.
Blake, 55, served as head coach at Oklahoma from 1996 to 1998, with current Bills coach Rex Ryan joining that program as defensive coordinator in 1998. Blake's previous NFL coaching experience has been limited to a three-year stint, from 1993 to '95, as the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line coach.
Blake was the subject of an NCAA investigation into his financial relationship with then-NFL agent Gary Wichard that resulted in Blake's resignation from North Carolina in September 2010. Blake, whom NCAA investigators found was compensated by Wichard for access he provided to student-athletes, was given a three-year show cause penalty in March 2012 and remained out of coaching until Lamar hired him.
In a 2011 interview with Sports Illustrated, Blake denied the allegations, saying, "It's important to me that they know [I'm] an honest and good man. We all make mistakes in life. But my character, my integrity means a lot to me."
The penalty against Blake was imposed as part of larger NCAA sanctions against the school for a series of infractions. The investigation led to North Carolina's firing of coach Butch Davis in 2010, the school's vacating of 16 wins in 2008 and 2009, the reduction of scholarships and a postseason ban in 2012.
Davis, who coached Blake in high school and made Blake one of his first hires for the Tar Heels in 2006, said, "I'm sorry that I trusted John Blake" as part of a broader apology after Blake resigned in 2010.
Blake has connections to two current Bills defensive linemen. Yahoo! Sports reported in 2010 that Blake recommended Wichard to then-Alabama defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, who later became the Bills' first-round pick in 2011. TheMMQB.com also reported last year that Blake has helped train Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes.
Coach Rex Ryan said in the Bills' statement, "John is a heck of a coach who has worked with many outstanding players and made them better. He endured a difficult time in his coaching career a few years back, but has moved forward with his life and put that behind him. Since that time he has worked with a number of NFL players and earned their respect with his ability to hone their skills and techniques. I don't think you will find better examples of his teaching abilities than the work he has done recently with Jason Pierre-Paul and Jerry Hughes."
Wide receiver Greg Little, one of three former North Carolina players the NCAA deemed ineligible in 2010 as part of its investigation into that program, joined the Bills' offseason roster earlier this year.
Dunbar, who served as Ryan's defensive coordinator for the New York Jets from 2012 to 2014 and held that same role in Buffalo last season, released a statement through his agent Monday.
"While I am completely surprised and disappointed in being relieved of my duties by the Buffalo Bills, I would like to thank: the Bills organization, Terry and Kim Pegula, Coach Ryan, the other Bills coaches, all of the Bills players and all of the staff in Buffalo," Dunbar said in the statement. "I am especially grateful to the numerous players and coaches who reached out and shared their support of me. I wish them success in the future as I seek my next coaching opportunity."
Ryan's lingering decision on Dunbar led to the unusual timing of an assistant coach being fired in mid-March, a source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, adding that Dunbar's fate should have been decided immediately after the Bills' season ended Jan. 3.