Jenny Dell’s departure from NESN has seemed a foregone conclusion since the popular reporter was removed from her duties on the network’s Red Sox broadcasts in January following a New Year’s Day tweet confirming one of the worst-kept secrets in the city: She was dating Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, and had been for some time.
The day of departure for the well-liked Dell, who replaced Heidi Watney in the sideline role before the 2012 season, finally arrived Thursday.
Dell and the network mutually announced her departure a few minutes past noon.
“NESN and Jenny Dell have mutually agreed that this is the right time for her to explore other opportunities full time,” said a network statement. “Today is her last day at the network. A search is underway for her replacement on ‘NESN Sports Today.’ ”
Dell has not responded to recent requests for comment, including one Thursday. But on her Twitter feed, @JennyDellNESN (at least for the time being), she wrote: “After an incredible 2 years at @NESN, it’s time to say goodbye. Many thanks to the whole #NESN cast & crew. Appreciate the love & support!”
It was a gracious departure for Dell, who has been marginalized since — but not entirely for — revealing her relationship with Middlebrooks. Dell filled a less prominent reporter/anchor role on “NESN Sports Today” since being pulled off the Red Sox coverage.
It’s uncertain where she’s headed next. (Red Sox fans frustrated with Middlebrooks’s season might suggest Pawtucket.) But Dell, who came a long way from her early days at NESN when many of her “live” shots had to be prerecorded, has drawn interest over the past several months from outlets such as Fox Sports 1 and Turner Sports/Bleacher Report. If she pursues a more prominent gig, the bet here is that she will land one quickly.
Sources with knowledge of the situation have said part of the reason NESN demoted her was not the relationship with Middlebrooks, which presented a potential conflict of interest, but because there was frustration among management that she was entertaining offers and considering an attempt to get out of her contract.
In February, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said that Dell, who was still under contract, was free to leave whenever she wanted, a comment that industry sources say didn’t go over well with some of her superiors at the network. Thursday, that day of departure finally arrived.
Lyons has impressed
I’ll admit to having initial skepticism regarding NESN’s decision to hire Steve Lyons in April.
As a player, he was famed for absent-mindedly pulling his pants down on the field one day. As a broadcaster, he gained notoriety for occasionally putting his foot in his mouth, particularly when he made an off-hand racially insensitive comment during a broadcast in October 2006 regarding fellow analyst Lou Piniella that led to his termination by Fox Sports.
Lyons spent nine years as a Dodgers television broadcaster but was not brought back this season after Nomar Garciaparra and Orel Hershiser were recruited away from ESPN.
That’s a long way of saying that Lyons, who had four playing stints with the Red Sox, has been a pleasant surprise during his return to Boston. Whether filling in for Jerry Remy as the color analyst — and given Lyons’s multiyear deal, it’s difficult not to wonder whether he’s in line to be the successor there — or appearing in studio on NESN or on the “Dale and Holley” show on WEEI, he’s an easygoing and knowledgeable presence.
Sure, Lyons could stand to let the game breathe a little more during the NESN telecasts, but his talkativeness is born from enthusiasm, and listening to him, it’s easy to understand how he once rose to national prominence as an analyst. He’s not Dennis Eckersley — no one, in any market or on any national outlet, is as good as Eck. But Lyons is better than the vast majority.
A little work needed
Three days — or roughly 12 hours of program time, including commercials and relentless promos for their surrounding programs — is hardly enough time to judge WEEI’s new program, the awkwardly named “Middays With MFB.”
Holdover host Lou Merloni and new hosts Tim Benz and Christian Fauria deserve time to mesh and find their cadence. But after listening for several hours this week, including all of Wednesday’s show, I don’t think it’s premature to come to one conclusion:
The show’s success — specifically, the ability to cut into the enormous ratings advantage held by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s midday program “Gresh and Zo” — will depend in large part on Fauria’s ability to offer relatively concise insight on sports other than the NFL.
Merloni is already established in the market, while Benz, who arrived from Pittsburgh, sounds familiar (his voice is similar to, if a little sturdier than, that of predecessor Mike Mutnansky) and he clearly is a pro at running a show.
Fauria, the former Patriots tight end, is also relatively familiar, from his contributions to Channel 4’s Patriots coverage to his past “NFL Sunday” role and various fill-in stints on WEEI.
He’s affable enough, but he has demonstrated a knack for talking in circles at times, specifically when the topic doesn’t involve his area of expertise, the NFL. In his more prominent role, that habit could get old in a hurry.
Interest in Lewis
The NFL Network has had significant interest in Channel 7 sports reporter/weekend anchor Rhett Lewis for some time, and it’s expected that he will end up at the network sooner rather than later. Lewis, who has done good work at Channel 7 since arriving from WVUE in his hometown of New Orleans, has an interesting football background. He played wide receiver at Indiana University, graduating in 2005, and his father, Dean Kleinschmidt, is a longtime NFL trainer who is currently the coordinator of athletic medicine for the Detroit Lions . . . Albert Breer, whose absence from the NFL Network airwaves during the final weeks of the postseason was conspicuous, had his contract option picked up by the network.
Chad Finn can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.