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Chargers former GM AJ Smith dead at 75, family announces


A.J. Smith, the winningest general manager in Los Angeles Chargers history, has died, the family announced Sunday. He was 75.

Smith had been battling prostate cancer for several years, his family noted in their announcement.

“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. 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,” Chargers owner and board chair Dean Spanos said in a statement.

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A.J. Smith looks on

A.J. Smith (Kent C. Horner/Getty Images/File)

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

Smith’s journey in the NFL didn’t start at the top as he worked his way up from a part-time scout of the then-San Diego Chargers to general manager in 2003.

Smith built the franchise to its best years from 2003 to 2012, when it won 98 games during his 10 seasons.

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One of the most infamous moves in NFL Draft history came with Smith at the helm in 2004, when Eli Manning and his father, Archie, requested the Chargers not draft him first overall out of Ole Miss. But Smith did it anyway and orchestrated a trade with the New York Giants to have them draft Philip Rivers while also acquiring more draft picks.

Smith would use those to draft three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and 2005 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year Shawne Merriman as well as two-time Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding.

A.J. Smith looks on from balcony

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith is shown during training camp in San Diego on July 31, 2006. (Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

Rivers, of course, went on to be the best Chargers quarterback in team history, though Manning would go on to win two Super Bowls with the Giants. Rivers set franchise records with 59,271 yards and 397 touchdown passes during his illustrious tenure with the team.

Smith also made the call to sign Antonio Gates as an undrafted free agent in 2003; Gates is the all-time franchise record holder with 955 receptions, 11,841 receiving yards and 116 touchdowns.

Smith also hired Norv Turner as the team’s head coach in 2007, who replaced Marty Schottenheimer. Smith and Schottenheimer did not have a good relationship, and Smith knew he needed to make the right hire to keep the Chargers moving in the right trajectory. 

Turner would go 56-40 during his time with the Chargers, but after no Super Bowls, Spanos decided to go in a different direction altogether, firing both the coach and Smith in 2012 after the team went 7-9. However, it was just Smith’s second losing season as GM.

A.J. Smith addresses media

A.J. Smith (Kirby Lee/Getty Images/File)

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Smith’s son, Kyle, followed in his father’s footsteps and is now the assistant GM for the Atlanta Falcons.

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

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