Your friendly neighborhood sports media columnist had an idea, one centered in both curiosity and symmetry.
I planned to call Michael Holley at 2 p.m. Thursday. For the past five years, as the co-host of WEEI’s afternoon drive Dale and Holley program, he’d always been busy at that precise time.
As you may have heard, he’s not anymore, at least in that familiar way.
But after a few swapped texts, the connection could not be made until later in the afternoon. The day after announcing, seemingly abruptly, that he was leaving WEEI after 13 years for an expanded role at NBC Sports Boston, Holley did not sit around second-guessing his decision while listening to the newly christened Dale and Keefe show, as if nostalgia sets in in just a day. Instead, he went to lunch with his wife, then shopping at a wholesale store. It was a nice Thursday.
“It was a different kind of day,’’ said Holley, whose geniality on the air is his genuine persona. “It was nice to see the outside world. It was like, ‘Oh, so this is what it looks like at 2 p.m. when you’re not in a studio.’ ”
Holley announced that he was leaving WEEI at 5 p.m. during Wednesday’s show, and the final hour spent with co-hosts Dale Arnold and Rich Keefe was spent sharing mutual appreciation and good memories.
But some questions were left unanswered: Why leave now, in the middle of a week and seemingly out of nowhere? Holley said the technical reason: His contract was up, with his three-year deal expiring on Feb. 28.
But like with pretty much every big decision in life, there were other variables, complications, and aspirations at play. He’s looking forward to focusing more on television. “I enjoy doing TV. It’s an opportunity to stretch and grow,’’ he said. “I haven’t done TV full-time in a long time. I want to see what that’s like.”
In September, Holley will begin teaching at Boston University’s esteemed journalism school. Initially, Holley, a former columnist and Celtics beat writer at the Globe, will teach classes on beat reporting and sports writing.
The other opportunities have him excited, he said. But Holley, who has been a co-host of NBCSN’s three-hour weeknight program “Boston Sports Tonight” since April, said family and lifestyle considerations were the fundamental part of his decision.
“I’d kind of have to jam everything into the morning before going to do radio from 2 to 6,’’ said Holley, who is married with three children, ages 5, 7, and 9. “I’d stop back home quickly, kiss the kids, have dinner, read them a bedtime story, then head over to NBC Boston and get home at 12:30 a.m. Something had to give. It was just a matter of what it was going to be.”
Arnold and Keefe said on the air Thursday that they found out Holley was leaving on Tuesday night. Producer Andy Massaua said he didn’t know until noon Wednesday. But it could not have been a total surprise. Holley’s contract status had been mentioned on air. And Holley said he told his co-hosts during Super Bowl week in Minnesota that there was a good chance he wouldn’t be back.
“But they probably were thinking that it was going to work itself out,’’ said Holley. “That’s how Entercom does business, things sometimes get done at the last minute, it will work out. But I had already been thinking about whether I wanted to continue to do it. My mind was racing about it in January.”
WEEI has been caught up in controversy lately, much self-inflicted. Part-time host Alex Reimer was suspended in early February after referring to Tom Brady’s daughter as a “pissant.” A few days after that, midday co-host Christian Fauria was suspended for five days for mocking Brady’s agent, Don Yee, with a stereotyped imitation. The entire staff spent a recent Friday in sensitivity training.
Holley acknowledged it has been a contentious time at WEEI, but said the possibility of leaving had been percolating before any of the recent negative developments.
“There were a number of factors, but it wasn’t like I was deciding to come back to radio and all of this stuff happened and then I decided, ‘I’ve got to get out of here,’ ” he said. “When the Fauria thing happened, I had come to my decision already. I sat in sensitivity training. I brought my notebook. I dressed up that day, just to psychologically tell myself to take it seriously, I’m going to be involved. But I had already made my decision. I was there, but that had nothing to do with my thinking.”
WEEI and its parent company Entercom plan to add a third voice to the afternoon show to replace Holley. John Tomase, Trenni Kusnierek and Mike Mutnansky will be among those filling in until a decision is made. Holley said he hopes that the engaging tone of the show remains intact.
“ I hope they’re not asked to go in a direction that takes them away from their strengths,’’ he said. “I make no apologies whatsoever for what the show was. None. I’m proud of it. You think we talk too much sports? Good, I’m glad you feel that way. It’s a sports show. And that’s all right. Everyone doesn’t tune in to the radio for the craziness and the gossip and the drama. That’s fine. That’s fun, sometimes.
“But you also have to have some balance. In Boston, you’ve got to have sports chops. You’ve got to be able to talk about the Celtics and how long their window is going to be, or the Patriots being in transition. You’ve got to be able to discuss it. The thing that I’m most proud of, going back with Dale [with whom he hosted the midday show from 2005-11] and then with Keefe, is that we could do that. We didn’t force it, we didn’t say, ‘Keefe, you take this position, Dale, you do this,’ it just happened organically because of the differences we all brought to it. I hope it remains that way.”