NFL: Former Chargers GM A.J. Smith dies at 75

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A.J. Smith, former general manager of the then-San Diego Chargers, died Sunday. He was 75.

Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Kyle Smith, the son of A.J., and his family announced the passing on Sunday. The elder Smith died after a seven-year battle with prostate cancer.

Smith began his NFL personnel career as a scout with the New York Giants in 1977, advancing in his career until his eventual promotion to general manager with the Chargers in 2003. He held that position for 10 seasons.

During that period, the Chargers won five division titles and finished with a .500 or better record for eight straight seasons. Smith was the winningest GM in Chargers history, as San Diego totaled 98 wins (including postseason) over his 10 seasons in charge.

“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 on Sunday. “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 had some high-profile moments during his tenure in San Diego.

Smith went ahead and selected Eli Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft despite father Archie Manning requesting the team not pick his son. Smith then traded Manning to the New York Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers (the fourth pick) and also obtained draft picks used to select linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding.

The trade worked out for both teams with Rivers setting Chargers franchise marks of 59,271 passing yards and 397 touchdowns. Manning won two Super Bowls with the Giants.

After Rivers’ second season, Smith allowed Drew Brees to leave as a free agent and turned the club over to Rivers. Brees had injured his shoulder in the 2005 season finale and underwent major surgery before recovering to become a star with the New Orleans Saints.

The Chargers went 14-2 in 2006 but were upended at home 24-21 in the postseason by the New England Patriots after holding an eight-point, fourth-quarter lead. That led to the firing of coach Marty Schottenheimer, who Smith had refused to talk to during the campaign due to their frosty relationship.

The coaching search was held in February, leading to Norv Turner becoming the new coach. San Diego reached the 2007 AFC Championship Game before losing to the Patriots in Foxborough. The Chargers have not advanced that far ever since.

Smith famously signed tight end Antonio Gates as an undrafted free agent in 2003. Gates, a college basketball player, holds the team’s all-time records for receptions (955), receiving yards (11,841) and touchdown receptions (116).

Smith and Turner were fired after a 7-9 season in 2012.

After his tenure with San Diego, Smith spent three seasons as a consultant with Washington before announcing his retirement in 2015.

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

–Field Level Media

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