A.J. Smith, who is the winningest general manager in Chargers' history, dies at 75

Sun, May 12, 2024
NFL News (AP)

A.J. Smith, who is the winningest general manager in Chargers' history, dies at 75

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) - A.J. Smith, a longtime NFL executive who was the winningest general manager in Chargers history, has died. He was 75.

His son, Atlanta assistant general manager Kyle Smith, announced his father's death in a statement released by the Falcons on Sunday. Kyle Smith said his father had been battling prostate cancer for seven years.

A.J. Smith spent 35 years in the NFL, beginning as a part-time scout with the New York Giants in 1977.

He had two stints with the Chargers, first as pro personnel director in 1985-86. After 14 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, where he rose up the ranks to director of player personnel, Smith returned to San Diego as assistant GM in 2001. He was promoted to general manager in 2003 following the death of John Butler.

The Chargers won five division titles during Smith's 10 seasons as GM. The franchise's 98 wins, including the playoffs, were the sixth most in the league from 2003-12.

Despite the regular-season success, the Chargers didn't make the Super Bowl under Smith. The closest they got was the AFC championship game in the 2007 season before losing to the New England Patriots.

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"Belying a tough, matter of fact and no nonsense persona - one synonymous with that of a true football guy - was A.J.'s softer side which included a tremendous love for his family, the NFL and the Chargers," Chargers owner Dean Spanos said in a statement. "The architect of one of the greatest chapters in franchise history, A.J. made everyone around him better with a singular focus and intensity that elevated our organization."

Smith's most notable move was selecting Eli Manning first overall in the 2004 NFL draft, despite Manning saying he wouldn't play for the Chargers.

One hour after posing with a Chargers jersey with his family and then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue, Manning's rights were traded to the New York Giants for the rights to Philip Rivers, who was the fourth overall pick. San Diego also got a 2005 first-round pick, which it used to take linebacker Shawne Merriman.

While Manning won two Super Bowls with the Giants, Rivers went on to rewrite the Chargers record books during his 16 seasons with the franchise.

"It's quite obvious he didn't want to be here, as far as that family," Smith said after the trade was made. "The San Diego Chargers have a strategy. We know exactly what we're doing. We executed that pick with Eli Manning and the rest of it unfolded, and I don't want to reveal how we think in the building. We're very proud of what happened, too, by the way."

Smith was also known for firing Marty Schottenheimer as coach after the 2006 season, after the Bolts were upset by New England in the playoffs after going 14-2 in the regular season. Smith recommended hiring Norv Turner as coach despite Turner having a 59-83-1 record in previous stops at Washington and Oakland.

The Chargers made the playoffs during Turner's first three seasons in charge, but Turner and Smith were fired after a second straight losing campaign in 2012.

Smith also worked for New England, the Houston Oilers and Washington in the NFL as well as Chicago and Pittsburgh in the USFL.

Smith is survived by his wife, Susan, son, Kyle, daughter, Andrea, son-in-law, Noah, and three grandchildren.

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