Al Shrier sits facing his computer, with his back to his desk, which is probably for the best.
The massive desk behind him has become so engulfed in media guides, Garfield calendars, Looney Tunes memorabilia and paper that seeing its original color is next to impossible.
Shrier, 82, claims he knows where everything is and that he can always find what he needs, and doubting a man of his stature seems almost disrespectful. A request for an interview is granted as he takes his time away, only briefly, from preparing for the women’s basketball game two days away.
It is Friday, Jan. 25, in the late afternoon, and most men in their 80s would have been long retired, resting and having hung up their work shoes years ago.
“I have been very fortunate,” Shrier said. “The administrators have all been wonderful to me. And if you are happy with what you are doing you stay, if you aren’t happy you leave and look to go elsewhere. As long as I’m healthy I will be here.”
Shrier’s current title is the special assistant to the athletic director, but his impact at Temple is something that would be hard to determine with a position. He has been working for the university for 60 years and has, he said, “done everything you can do but coach.” Shrier once served as the school’s sports information director, a position he officially retired from in 1995, in order to take a role in a smaller capacity.
Shrier’s time at Temple began before his first official day of work on July 1, 1953. The West Philadelphia native attended Temple and received a degree in journalism. While offers to write for newspapers and work on the radio were present at the time of graduation, Shrier never considered leaving Temple.
“[Al] eats, sleeps and drinks Temple-all the time,” Shrier’s wife Ruthie Shrier said. “He is proud of where he is working. He has grown up at Temple, graduated from here, and this has been his whole life. He doesn’t really have anything else but that.”
The university honored him with a banner placed in the rafters of the Liacouras Center during halftime of the men’s basketball game Jan. 23 against the University of Pennsylvania. This was done in addition to re-decorating the media room already named in his honor. The celebration and commemoration on Al Shrier Night for a man that has spent many years remaining out of the spotlight left Shrier in an unusual position, one at the center of attention.
“When that banner went up, that floored me,” Shrier said. “I was flabbergasted to see that banner drop. It’s an honor, it’s phenomenal to think I am going to be up on that wall with such great people. They are all people I knew very well and it’s a great tribute.”
Shrier has been at Temple for much of the school’s recent history, including the rich sports’ history. Shrier was working at the school before the formation of the legendary Big 5, and there is rarely a moment in Temple history that he has not seen.
Senior Associate Athletic Director Larry Dougherty, who has known Shrier since he was 10 years old, works with Shrier as the sports information director for the men’s basketball team.
“People ask me all the time how Al’s doing and if he is still here,” Dougherty said. “All I say is, ‘Of course he is, where else would Al Shrier be?’”
Shrier’s longevity and ability to remain in the same institution for so long is a direct result of his character and passion, those he is close with said.
“To be in any business for that long, you have to have a passion for it, especially in athletics you have to love what you do, and Al Shrier does,” Dougherty said.
“Sixty years are proof enough that Al Shrier loves Temple University, and Temple University loves Al Shrier,” athletic director Bill Bradshaw said. “Nobody has spent more time, or worked more diligently serving Temple University…He is one of a kind, loyal to a fault, beloved and respected by all, a Philadelphia treasure.”
Shrier’s legacy at the school extends past his ability to serve for 60 years. His ability to publicize the school has been instrumental in allowing Temple to complete some of its biggest transformations, including a move to the Big East Conference, those close to him said.
“You could have great institutions who do great things, but if nobody is trying to push and promote them they may be under the radar, and I don’t think Temple has ever had that problem,” Dougherty said.
The banner that was hung in the rafters provided two glimpses into Shrier’s Temple persona. Under his name, a briefcase was depicted. Shrier’s document bag has become his trademark, and its contents remain a mystery.
What started in the 1990s has become as iconic as Shrier himself, and Shrier will show nobody, including the legendary Bill Cosby, what he carries around.
The second item on the banner was the date. The start date read 1953, but no end date was given. Because of Shrier’s length of service, the blank number is almost as immortal as the man it represents.
“Al Shrier has earned the right to walk away whenever Al Shrier wants,” Dougherty said.
While Shrier knows he can stay at the school as long as he wants, the end date won’t be filled in until it is an absolute certainty. And, like the contents of the briefcase and the papers on his desk, it is something that only he seems to know for sure.
Ibrahim Jacobs can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ibrahimjacobs.