May 18, 2012
Matt Winkeljohn, Sting Daily –
There was a story written in, “The Whistle,” a few years back that began with the words, “Known for his incredible memory” . . . and every bit of that still applies to Dr. Phil Adler – no matter that he’s now 81.
The long-, long-, long-time Georgia Tech professor will tap a distant part of his past this evening, when he’ll throw out the first pitch before the Yellow Jackets’ game against Miami at Russ Chandler Stadium.
Now a Professor Emeritus of Strategic Management at the College of Management, Adler has an athletic background; he earned two varsity letters at Ohio State, although he’s quick to suggest that he really wasn’t much of a grappler but rather he was very good at just being around.
He’s been around Tech since 1962, retiring from teaching in 2000, and doing his best to stay in the mix up to this day.
Baseball, though, now that goes way, way, way back – even before Adler roomed at Ohio State with an eventual Pittsburgh Pirate. Vic Janowicz, won the Heisman Trophy as a junior at OSU in 1950, before a new coach the next year (Woody Hayes) changed his role and made him a relative afterthought.
“I didn’t play any high school or college ball,” Adler said. “Just AAU when I was young. I was a pitcher and a first baseman. I think I can throw it about 90 feet, certainly 60.
I will not pitch from the pitcher’s mound. You know how [Braves closer Craig] Kimbrell leans over to get the sign? If I did that, I’d fall flat on my face.”
Anyone with long-time ties to the Tech Athletic Association remembers Adler, as do thousands of students from over the decades. A group of graduates raised funds a few years ago to name the fourth floor, north end of the Management building, “The Donna L. and Dr. Phillip Adler Jr. Faculty Excellence Wing.”
Adler has a way of making himself known, of involving himself.
After finishing his Ph.D. at Ohio State, where two of his students while he was a graduate assistant were undergrads named Jack Nicklaus and John Havlicek, Adler moved to Atlanta and knocked on the door of the football coach.
Bobby Dodd was not impressed, at least not immediately. Some salesmanship was required. That was, you can be sure, no problem for Adler.
“I . . . introduced myself. He was easy to talk to. He called everybody, ‘Son.’ Even later when his granddaughter was my teaching assistant,” Adler recalled. “I said, ‘Coach, I want to know if I can help you with recruiting . . . from the academic standpoint?’
“So he looks at me, and says, ‘You just came from where?’ How do I know that you will not send my recruits to Ohio State? I said, ‘It’s as simple as the name at the top of my paycheck.’ He said, ‘You come down here Saturday; I have 25 recruits coming in.”
Adler played a role in hosting prospective Tech student-athletes for decades, right up until five or six years ago, and his involvement in athletics went beyond that.
He was involved at various times and to various degrees in ticketing, moving the band from the East stands to the North, the creation of VIP boxes in Bobby Dodd Stadium, and recruiting for more sports than you can fit fingers on a hand.
Glaucoma has addled his vision, and while he said he still walks, “I don’t do well with steps,” so his visits to The Flats have become rare in recent years.
That doesn’t mean the man is sitting around.
Once keenly involved at WGST when Tech still owned the radio station, he still hosts a show – radio’s Dr. Phil – on 1620 a.m. and America’s Web Radio.
His list of projects over the decades is remarkable and impossible to encompass as it ranges from time spent as a Tech trustee, serving former Georgia governor and U.S. President Jimmy Carter, helping organize the first Tech College of Management Alumni Advisory Board and the Honorary Beta Gamma Sigma and much, much more.
Ground zero, though, is Georgia Tech.
“I’ve been involved there for nearly half its existence, coming in 1962,” Adler said. “I would like to [stay busy at Tech], but I have a very difficult time with my eyes . . . and those steps at the stadium are really hard.
Many have said I was their most demanding professor, but it worked. I’m the only plain professor to have a piece of a building named for me. It was $1.5 million to name that floor.”
Adler was a joy to speak with, although I owe him an apology for not calling back Thursday while I was in Athens covering the NCAA tennis championships all day and into the night. He has a thousand stories, and he recalls them vividly. Comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.