A.J. Smith, winningest GM in Chargers history, dies

ByABC News
May 12, 2024, 6:19 PM

Former Chargers general manager A.J. Smith died Sunday at the age of 75, his family announced.

Smith had been battling prostate cancer for the past seven years, his family said in the announcement, which was released by the Falcons. Smith's son, Kyle, is the Atlanta Falcons' assistant general manager.

During a 35-year career in the NFL, A.J. Smith rose from a part-time scout to general manager of the San Diego Chargers, holding that role from 2003 to 2012. He became the winningest GM in franchise history, as the Chargers won 98 games (including playoffs) during his 10 seasons in the role.

"Belying a tough, matter of fact and no nonsense persona -- one synonymous with that of a true football guy -- was AJ'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 drafted quarterback Eli Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 draft despite Archie Manning's request that he not do so, and then traded Manning's rights to the New York Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers and draft picks that he used to select linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding.

Rivers went on to set Chargers franchise records with 59,271 yards and 397 touchdown passes. Manning, though, won two Super Bowls with the Giants, while Rivers never led the Chargers to a championship.

Smith also signed tight end Antonio Gates as an undrafted free agent in 2003. Gates now holds the Chargers' all-time records for receptions (955), receiving yards (11,841) and touchdown receptions (116).

His signature coaching hire was Norv Turner in 2007, replacing Marty Schottenheimer who was fired despite a 14-2 season in 2006. Schottenheimer was fired by Spanos, who cited a "dysfunctional situation" between the coach and Smith.

Turner went 56-40 in six seasons and, like Schottenheimer, was unable to lead the Chargers to a Super Bowl. He was fired along with Smith in 2012 when the Chargers finished 7-9 -- just the second losing season in Smith's tenure as GM.

Smith's career also includes 14 years with the Buffalo Bills, during which he eventually became the team's director of pro personnel. He joined Washington as a consultant in 2013 after being fired by the Chargers and retired from the NFL in 2015.

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