June 22, 2024

A.J. Smith, longtime NFL executive and former Chargers GM, dies at 75

“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. Our hearts are with his wife Sue, son Kyle, daughter Andrea and the entire Smith family during this difficult time.”

Hired as the director of pro personnel/assistant GM in 2001, Smith’s first season with the Chargers was a turning point for the franchise, as they selected Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson and soon-to-be HOF quarterback Drew Brees with respective first- and second-round picks.

It wasn’t before long Smith was promoted to Chargers GM in 2003, but he’d soon be involved in one of the more memorable moments in NFL draft history.

Despite Eli Manning voicing his displeasure with the Chargers potentially selecting him with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Smith went ahead and picked the Ole Miss QB anyway, creating a heavy scene at the podium in the Madison Square Garden Theater.

Of course, Smith dealt Manning to the Giants on draft day in exchange for their No. 4 overall pick, Philip Rivers, who’d go on to become the Chargers’ all-time leader in passing yards (59,721), touchdown passes (397) and wins (126).

Smith would draft notable Chargers players such as Shawne Merriman, Vincent Jackson, Darren Sproles, Antonio Cromartie, and Eric Weddle in the years to follow, which laid the foundation for a team that reached the postseason perennially.

Ultimate success came tough for Smith and the Chargers, however, as they failed to win a playoff game in the early portion of Smith’s successful run as GM. Smith infamously fired Marty Schottenheimer following a 14-2 season after a Divisional Round exit in 2006, which set a clear tone for the then-San Diego franchise.

Smith’s hiring of Norv Tuner maintained success, leading to an appearance in the AFC Championship Game in Turner’s first season in 2007. The Chargers proceeded to stack wins and playoff appearances the following two seasons, but the duo would be fired in 2012 after three consecutive playoff-less seasons, signaling an end to a memorable era in Chargers history. He’d spend two seasons in Washington as a consultant before announcing his retirement in 2015.

Smith’s career in the NFL began as a part-time scout in 1977, spending time with a handful of teams before moving up the ranks and establishing himself as an NFL executive with the Buffalo Bills from 1986 to 2000.

A.J’s son Kyle Smith is currently the assistant GM for the Atlanta Falcons.