Mick Holien, “Voice of the Griz” for a Generation, Remembered as One of “The Good Guys”

For over 30 years, the sound of Grizzly Athletics was synonymous with the blast of the ROTC cannon in Washington-Grizzly Stadium, “Up with Montana” ringing through the rafters of Dahlberg Arena, and Mick Holien, the ever-ebullient “Voice of the Griz,” painting the verbal landscape of Montana sports “from left to right on your radio dial.”

From Griz football fans tuning in from a cold November hunting camp to those simply not lucky enough to see UM’s basketball teams cut down the nets after another conference championship, Holien brought the highs and lows of Grizzly Athletics to every corner of the Big Sky state from 1985 to 2016.

Long-time followers of the Griz can still hear some of Holien’s calling-card phrases as if the game was played yesterday. Phrases like “Touchdown, Montana!” “No hill for a climber,” “Down the pickle barrel baby!” and “Be at your best when your best is needed” are etched in the lexicon of Montana fandom.

But those expressions fell forever silent last week when Holien passed away at the age of 76 due to complications with Multiple Sclerosis in his adopted hometown of Polson.

A native of Spokane, Washington, Holien began his tenure with Grizzly Athletics in 1985 as the play-by-play announcer for Lady Griz basketball. In 1993 he transitioned to play-by-play duties for Grizzly football and men’s basketball. Two years later, Montana would win its first-ever national championship.

From title games to record-setting performances, Holien called it all in a way that no one else could. His colorful descriptions made the listener feel as if they were courtside, or sitting on the 50-yard line, even if they were in that hunting camp high in Bob Marshall Wilderness.

“Mick will certainly be remembered for calling some of the best moments in Grizzly athletics,” said Montana director of athletics Kent Haslam. “He was such a Griz fan and loved the history and the relationships that come from sports. Mick always had such great and interesting stories to tell. He will definitely be missed.”

During his time with the Lady Griz, Holien called 211 games in the early stages of Robin Selvig’s legendary career, bringing his passion for sports to women’s hoops just in time to see the team rattle off six-straight conference titles.

For Selvig, it was a time when the luxury of a women’s basketball radio broadcast was a rarity, and having Holien courtside helped cement the Lady Griz as one of the nation’s premier programs.

“We went to a lot of places in those days, even big programs where they didn’t have radio, and here we’d come with Mick,” said Selvig.

“He had endless energy for all sports at the university. He really did. But I thought he added a lot to our program with his professionalism, enthusiasm, and knowledge. We had some really good years with him, and of course, he remained a friend for a lot of years after, too.”

After taking over the football play-by-play reins from “Grizzly” Bill Schwanke in ’93, Holien went on to call a total of 321 gridiron games at Montana. In seven seasons from 2003 to 2009, 89 of those games were wins, with head coach Bobby Hauck leading the Griz to three national championship appearances during his first tenure at UM.

“Mick loved the Montana Grizzlies and always put that love into calling our games,” said Hauck. “His voice added color to some of the greatest moments in our program’s history, and I always enjoyed reliving those games with him.”

When listeners tuned in to a Holien broadcast, they knew they were going to hear the game called from the fan’s perspective, always putting the audience right there with “the good guys.” He was awarded the “Montana Sports Broadcaster of the Year” an unprecedented 13 times in his decorated career, including a run of six straight years from 2007 – 2013.

During that run, Montana men’s basketball enjoyed its own stretch of success with three trips to the NCAA tournament under head coach Wayne Tinkle, who amassed a 158-89 record in eight seasons with the Griz.

“We lost a Grizzly legend in Mick,” said Tinkle. “Through the incredible wins and suffering losses, no one called the games, or brought you to the edge of your seat, quite like Mick. He’ll be sorely missed.”

All told, he called nearly 700 men’s basketball games for the Grizzlies, a total of 1,229 Montana memories on the field and on the hardwood crafted by Holien.

And just as he signed off the air so many times in his career, Mick Holien now rests knowing he gave the University of Montana, and indeed the whole Treasure State, his best.

“Good, better, best. Never let it rest until your good is better, and your better is your best.”

Grizzly Athletics plans to pay tribute to Holien in the fall of 2021 when the fans he cared for so much are once again able to pack into Washington-Grizzly Stadium and Dahlberg Arena.