Special assistant to the athletic director Al Shrier was roasted Friday night at the Doubletree Hotel as a tribute to his service.
For 57 years, Al Shrier, the special assistant to the athletic director, has quietly made a living promoting Temple athletic events, athletes and coaches, but never himself.
That changed last Friday, when the athletic department held a roast dedicated to Shrier at the Doubletree Hotel at 237 S. Broad St., where members of the athletic department celebrated Shrier’s time with Temple – he has been a Temple employee since he graduated from the university in 1953 – and his 80th birthday, which was July 9.
Shrier was always interested in a career in sports, even if it wasn’t as an athlete.
“I wasn’t much of an athlete, but I liked sports, so I figured the next-best thing was to start writing about it and do things like that, so that’s how it evolved,” Shrier said. “I played some baseball in high school, but I was terrible. I mean, I stunk. I was awful so I had to do something else.”
“Certain circumstances happened, and I was helping the [sports information director] at the time, and his boss died. And he was really at a loss, so I took over the sports, and then they asked me to stay when I graduated, and here I am,” Shrier added.
From 1953 to 1995, Shrier served as the athletic department’s SID, which mainly involved media relations between the media and athletes or coaches. He retired from the position in June 1995, but he returned during the 1995-96 academic year and has handled press credentials and other media services for the department ever since.
“The best part about [the job] is that it changes all the time,” Shrier said. “You have new athletes come in, you’re always meeting new people and it’s wonderful to have all these relationships.”
The friendships Shrier has had throughout the years were reflected in the Friday night list of roasters, including Bill Cosby, athletic director Bill Bradshaw, Philadelphia Daily News reporter Phil Jasner, former football coach Wayne Hardin, former athletic directors Charlie Theokas and Gavin White Jr., broadcaster Al “Big Al” Meltzer and comedian Joe Conklin.
Cosby was the first speaker, who was quick to make jokes about Shrier’s quiet nature, as Shrier sat in a large chair next to the podium.
“I’ve done about 40 of these,” Cosby said at the roast, “for big time people. He’s really done nothing – there’s nothing to talk about.
“The man has done nothing naughty. He’s never been caught with a dwarf or anything,” Cosby added.
Cosby played a video that illustrated Shrier’s sense of humor, in which Cosby and Shrier planned a tribute to former basketball coach John Chaney. In the video, Cosby’s cell phone, which plays a ringtone of Chaney yelling at his players, keeps interrupting him, while Shrier stays quiet the whole time. After the video, Cosby presented Shrier with a sweater that depicts a younger Shrier’s face, only with a giant mustache.
After Cosby, Bradshaw got on stage.
“Al doesn’t like the spotlight,” Bradshaw said. “He would rather be waterboarded than roasted.”
Bradshaw, who knew Shrier before the current athletic director was hired at Temple, said Shrier is the first person to show up at work every morning.
“Al always comes in, and we talk, and it’s the greatest way to start the day,” Bradshaw said. “We talk about everything from the Phillies to the Eagles and, for the most part, Temple. He has been a tremendous adviser to me.
“I can’t tell you about how reliable, loyal and faithful he is, and he has been a wonderful asset to every athletic director at Temple,” he added.
Bradshaw introduced one of the running gags of the night, during which roasters speculated on what Shrier keeps in the small cherry-colored bag he carries.
“Only Al knows [what’s in the bag], and no one has been able to get in,” Bradshaw said. “John Chaney and the former [athletic directors] have tried, but he keeps us guessing.”
As part of the joke, Bradshaw suggested Shrier’s bag holds incriminating photos of Temple officials that Shrier collected throughout the years.
Theokas was the only roaster who claimed to have knowledge of the contents of Shrier’s bag.
“I think the real answer is that it has changed over the years,” Theokas said. “When I was there, there was tickets in the bag, he gave tickets to everybody – Big 5 guys, his cousins, teachers and anybody.
“He was the ticket man, and I was like, ‘Al, give me the tickets. You’re out,’” he added.
Jasner followed with some of the raunchier jokes of the night, which involved Shrier and his wife of 41 years, Ruthie. But as the roasters climbed on and off the stage, compliments followed every potshot.
“There will never be another like him,” Jasner said.
Hardin, who hit the stage after Jasner, was the only roaster who did not make jokes at Shrier’s expense.
“I had a little different approach. I was always taught, ‘Don’t say anything unless you [can] say something good,’ so I talked about all the good points and all the good things he has done in his life,” Hardin said. “Some of those jokes get a little too under-the-skin. They might sound funny, but sometimes they sting, so I try to be positive.”
Hardin recalled what Shrier did for him and his team when Hardin coached the Owls.
“He was the best. He came with a lot of credentials, and he kept it up all his life and was a true public relations man,” Hardin said. “You don’t get a Maxwell Award winner [in 1974 quarterback Steve Joachim] without his kind of help.”
Theokas, who followed Hardin, opened by scolding the winningest coach in Temple football history.
“Wayne, it’s a roast, not a testimonial,” he said.
Theokas and White both joked about the relative lack of success in certain areas of Temple athletics in the past. Theokas reminisced about how former university president Peter Liacouras and Cosby recommended he hire football coach Ron Dickerson in 1993.
“Ron Dickerson couldn’t coach for s—,” Theokas said on stage. “Al Shrier could have won more games than him.”
Theokas later said in an interview that despite the harsh words, there are no hard feelings toward Dickerson.
“There wasn’t a finer person, a family guy. He was a wonderful guy and an outstanding coordinator at Penn State, Colorado and Clemson,” Theokas said. “Some people have the propensity to be the head coach, and some people can’t do that. Ron just wasn’t able to do that.”
White, who followed Theokas at the roast, was gracious to Shrier for his help when times were tough.
“There’s the glue that has held this department together,” White said pointing to Shrier. “He was an adviser to us, even when we didn’t know what we were doing.”
Closing out the roast were Conklin and Meltzer, who made a joke about Shrier having never flown in an airplane in his time as SID.
“He had an argument with a man named Orville [Wright] and figured, ‘The hell with him. I’m not using his product,’” Meltzer said.
Conklin would make jokes at Shrier’s expense using his inventory of impressions, such as Philadelphia mayor Michael Nutter, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels and broadcaster John Madden.
Bradshaw came on stage again to present Shrier and his wife a trophy that commemorates his service to Temple. Shrier then thanked all who attended and took a lighthearted shot at Cosby by insinuating he had stolen all of his comedic ability. Shrier gave out a sheet that showed the contents of his bag – the keys to Temple, the deed to McGonigle Hall and a moldy sandwich from 1976, but the sheet proved to be a trick as well.
Shrier has received many accolades outside his work at Temple. He is a member of four halls of fame besides Temple’s: the College Sports Information Directors of America, Philadelphia Big 5, Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Jewish Sports Halls of Fame. The media room in the Liacouras Center is named after him, and in 2004, Temple gave out Shrier bobbleheads.
“It’s makes you proud that people recognize you, especially by your peers, and it makes you feel like you’ve done a good job,” Shrier said. “And I feel honored to be honored.”
Shrier enjoyed his one night under the spotlight, but he still prefers to let others get the attention.
“It’s not for me. I always felt my job [is to] try to help the people I’m representing,” Shrier said. “It’s about them, not me.”
Brian Dzenis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.