Seven years ago, Dan Hellie got what seemed like a dream job. After several years in Orlando and West Palm Beach, he was finally back home in Washington, working for the legendary George Michael at WRC, the most powerful local station with one of the country’s strongest sports brands.
“I thought I would never leave,” he said this week.
But since he arrived, established local sports directors like Dave Feldman and Brett Haber departed for all-sports networks. Other local anchors, like Sara Walsh and Hellie’s colleague Lindsay Czarniak, got jobs at ESPN. Hellie, at 38, became one of the longest-serving and best connected sports broadcasters in the city. So with his contract set to expire, Hellie did his due diligence, talking to a variety of national sports and news networks. And this week, he’ll announce his next move: to NFL Network, where he’ll anchor the daily ‘NFL Total Access’ look at the league.
“It’s a blessing to go from one unbelievable job to another,” Hellie said. “I feel unbelievably lucky. And I’m not dumb enough to think that luck had nothing to do with it.”
Perhaps, but there was clearly more than that. Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan placed a call to the network, telling executive producer Eric Weinberger the respect he had “for [Hellie’s] journalism and his reporting.” Owner Dan Snyder also contacted NFL Network President and CEO Steve Bornstein, with a similar message.
“You’re searching for personality, for confidence, for a thorough knowledge of the topic, and that’s what he has,” Weinberger said. “He’s in a unique place, coming out of D.C., learning from George Michael, covering one of the most rabidly followed franchises in sports. We really liked not only his presence on camera, but that he has a point of view when he delivers his reporting.”
Hellie had other job offers, both inside and outside sports. WRC also presented “a great offer with opportunities to do network sports and network news in addition to my channel 4 responsibilities,” Hellie said. “But the NFL Network came thorugh with an opportunity I just thought was too good to pass up.”
And what does that mean for D.C.? WRC VP of News Mike Goldrick said in a statement that his station has already started a search for Hellie’s replacement, who will join Jason Pugh and Dianna Russini, continuing the station’s three-person sports anchoring staff.
“Dan has been an important part of our team for seven years,” Goldrick said in the statement. “We’re sorry to see him go and will miss him, but he has been offered a great professional opportunity on a national stage.
Which has been something of a trend locally, In addition to ESPN’s ever-growing list of talent hired out of Washington — from Kornheiser and Wilbon to Czarniak and Walsh to Bram Weinstein and Hakem Dermish to a huge roster of reporters — NFL Network is also stockpiling Washington veterans. Scott Hanson, the beloved host of NFL RedZone, is a veteran of Comcast SportsNet. Andrew Siciliano and Amber Theoharis also have D.C. roots. And this week, LaVar Arrington — a Washington Post contributor — announced he will become an analyst for the network’s ‘NFL AM’ program.
“As we are building a network that entertains and reports on football, it’s not a coincidence that we are very often found looking in the Baltimore and D.C. market, where the standards are so high,” Weinberger said.
“D.C. is a huge breeding ground for the sports networks,” Hellie added. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In addition to his ‘Total Access’ studio work, Hellie is expected to host remote shows for the network, from the Super Bowl to the Draft to the NFL Combine. But even though he’ll relocate to Southern California and start hosting ‘Total Access’ in the beginning of August — his wife and two young children will soon follow — Hellie isn’t about to quit D.C. sports.
“I’m gonna have a Redskins helmet on my desk, a Nationals pennant in my dressing room,” he promised. ” I thought Iwas gonna be here a long long time, but I tried to take a long-term view. And if you’re going to attach yourself to a sports-specific network, I don’t think there’s a better one than the NFL.”