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Chargers Mourn Passing of Former General Manager A.J. Smith


The Chargers are mourning the passing of former General Manager A.J. Smith, who spent a decade leading the Bolts front office in one of the most successful runs in franchise history.

Smith passed away Sunday at the age of 75.

"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," Dean Spanos, Chargers Owner and Chairman of the Board, 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."

Ed McGuire, the Chargers Executive Vice President of Football Administration/Player Finance, echoed Spanos' sentiment about Smith.

"A.J. was tough and no-nonsense, but was also misunderstood as solely being a hard-ass," McGuire said. "A.J. loved his family, his team, and his players. He wanted so badly to win a championship for everyone."

Smith was hired in 2003 and spent 10 seasons as the Chargers GM. He was at the helm for 98 total victories, including the postseason.

With the Chargers holding the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Smith turned that selection into a haul of future stars including quarterback Philip Rivers, linebacker Shawne Merriman and others.

Smith also signed tight end Antonio Gates as an undrafted free agent in 2003 in one of the greatest roster moves in franchise history. Gates is the Bolts all-time leader in receptions (955), receiving yards (11,841) and touchdown catches (116).

The Bolts would win the 2004 AFC West crown to spark a run that included five division titles in a six-season span.

John Spanos, Chargers President of Football Operations, noted the profound impact Smith had on him more than two decades ago.

"I'll forever be grateful to A.J., not only for what he did for the Chargers but also for how much he helped me personally," John Spanos said in a statement. "The year I left the Management Council at the League Office to rejoin the Chargers coincided with A.J.'s first year as GM.

"Looking back now, I can't believe how fortunate the timing was. A.J. was an unbelievable mentor, affording me the opportunity to spend time with him watching tape, explaining different intricacies of how he went about evaluating players and pointing them out on film," Spanos added. "His track record as an evaluator and team builder speaks for itself, and I'll never forget his willingness to share his process with me. Starting in his second season as GM, we began a string of five division championships in the six years. Those were his teams."

Former Chargers GM A.J. Smith, who served in that role from 2003 to 2012 with the Bolts, passed away on Sunday.

Like Dean Spanos did above, Ed McGuire also called Smith the "architect" of that era of sustained success.

McGuire said he will remember "the great teams that he assembled and the number of wins that we accumulated during his tenure. We went from a bad football team to a very good team quickly."

McGuire later added: "A.J. was the architect, the one making the calls during the draft, in free agency and with trades. He put together a great personnel staff that brought in many great players, leading to our success."

McGuire also noted there was more to Smith than his football acumen.

"He was someone who was a lot of fun when was able to relax and let his hair down," McGuire said. "We had some great times together."

Smith's family said he had privately battled cancer in recent years before his passing on Sunday.

"It hit me hard when I heard this tragic news because it seemingly came out of nowhere, with so few people knowing the health battle he had been facing," John Spanos said. "But that was A.J., he always did things on his terms because he believed in his process.

"He was also such a strong family man," Spanos added. "My thoughts go out to his wife Sue as well as his children Andrea and Kyle."

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