It seems AJ Smith garners a lot of hatred by the Chargers fanbase, especially lately. It's a standing joke around here that AJ Smith's ego is out of control, that many of his decisions are done merely to satisfy his ego, the best interests of the team be damned.
Many people have their reasons for disliking AJ Smith, some rooted in truth, others rooted in fantasy land. This started as a direct response to what someone wrote on the Bolts from the Blue Facebook page, and I wanted to expound upon some of the points.
Lest we forget, AJ is the one that built this winning team in the first place.
AJ Smith Released the Beloved LaDainian Tomlinson
It's true, the team released LT following the 2009 season. He was (and still is) beloved by Chargers fans everywhere, and it was a bitter pill to swallow for fans of the team, and of LT.
The facts of the matter are that LT wasn't producing at a level the team wanted or needed during the 2009 season. It was time to move on and get a decent running game going. The Chargers were ranked 31st (that's 2nd-to-last) in 2009, and contrary to what LaDainian Tomlinson said in the media, the problems didn't all lie with the offensive line.
There was a running joke amongst several BFTB members that LT could be tripped up by a blade of grass. Even casual fans could notice that he didn't have the explosiveness he used to have, especially when running to the outside. It got to the point where any time he ran to the outside, it almost surely resulted in a loss of yards on the play as LT couldn't outrun linebackers anymore.
Once Tomlinson landed with the Jets (see what I did there?), there was talk about how much better of a Running Back he would be now that he was running behind a dominant offensive line. Granted, his rushing YPC numbers went up (4.2 in 2010 vs 3.3 in 2009), but all other production went down.
Meanwhile, the Chargers run game went from 31st, to 15th. That's quite an improvement after making a change of just one player. So take the emotional attachment out of the situation, and how can you fault AJ for the move?
AJ Smith Never Offered Contracts to Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson
Here's the thing: AJ did offer contracts to Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson. That's exactly what a Restricted Free Agent Tender is, a one-year contract. that were hefty pay raises for both players. One could argue, AJ didn't have to play hardball with these two players, that he was just exerting his power over them because he could (and his ego was running amok).
I firmly believe though, that AJ had the team's best interest in mind when he set the June 15th deadline to sign the tenders, or face a large cut in pay. AJ told McNeill from the start, "sign the tender, report to camp, and we'll work out a deal." AJ wanted the players to report to the team in time to work out a deal and work with the team as much as possible. It was McNeill's decision to hold out and not report to camp. Once McNeill reported, what happened? Oh yeah, he got a 5-year contract. If AJ truly cared more about exerting control over a player, would he have put his ego aside so readily and offered them a decent contract?
With Vincent Jackson, however, AJ and the team made it clear that Jackson wasn't part of the long-term plans for the team. Whether he's said it publicly or not, it appears AJ Smith sees Wide Receivers as a cheap, and sometimes overrated, commodity (some people here at BFTB believe that to be true to an extent as well).
Vincent Jackson picked the wrong time to make a case for a long-term contract. After all his off-the-field issues (two DUI convictions), his on-the-field antics in the playoff loss to the Jets (honestly, who kicks a challenge flag?), Jackson didn't exactly have much leverage over the team to command a huge contract. The fact he had only been a dominant receiver for what amounts to 1.5 seasons didn't help his value much either. Oh yeah, the CBA changes before the 2010 season didn't help matters.
Like it or not, the Chargers is a business, and AJ is the personnel boss. In business, how often do the employees get to call the shots and how the business is run, instead of the boss? Not very often. AJ didn't want to set a precedence of, "whine and complain enough and you'll get your way." He needed to keep things in order and stick by his guns. If you keep your head down, stay out of the spotlight, and contribute on the field, he'll take care of you.
AJ Smith Let Kassim Osgood Go, Resulting in a ST Meltdown
The 7 years Kassim Osgood was on the team, he made it very evident he wanted to be more than a Special Teams player; he wanted to be a true Wide Receiver. He even went on record to say he would be a great receiver some day, "probably not in San Diego." The problem is, he isn't as good a Wide Receiver as he thinks he is, or more accurately, he's just not a very good Wide Receiver.
So to say AJ "let go" of Kassim is a bit disingenuous. Kassim was a free agent, and he made it very known he was unhappy on the Chargers. Jacksonville picked him up quickly, promising he'd be a true WR on the team, in addition to a Special Teams player.
But, Jacksonville subsequently learned he wasn't very good at WR, and used him very little as a WR. The entire 2010 season, he caught 6 passes, SIX, for 60 yards.
Seeing as how Kassim Osgood was never going to be happy in San Diego unless he was a WR, it's kind of hard to fault AJ for not pursuing a contract with him.
AJ Smith Let Lorenzo Neal Go, Dooming the Running Game
Lorenzo Neal was great when he was with the Chargers, no doubt about that. However, AJ knew he was becoming less effective and nearing retirement: he had been in the league for 15 seasons at that point and only started 8 games in 2007. The writing was on the wall that the Chargers needed the roster space, so the team waived him.
Baltimore picked him up, and again, he was not the usual starter (started only 5 games) and was used only on occasion. Come 2009, he never made it out of training camp.
AJ Smith Fired Marty Schottenheimer After a 14-2 Season Because They Didn't Get Along
This one still cracks me up. Either people like to rewrite history, or they weren't paying much attention at the time.
The fact is, Dean Spanos had stated the team would keep Marty for another year, even though there was the strained relationship between AJ and Marty. When four members of Marty's coaching staff all left the team for higher positions, it made Marty a bit more expendable as there was already going to be a wholesale change in the coaching staff.
Things boiled over when Marty insisted that his brother Kurt become the Chargers new Defensive coordinator, going against Dean Spanos' wishes. It was Dean Spanos who ultimately fired Marty because even he and Marty now had a dysfunctional relationship.
AJ Smith Traded Drew Brees Away
No one thinks AJ is perfect. He's made some spectacular trades and drafts, and also some less-than-impressive moves over the years. He's the most public head of the franchise, so of course he's going to get his fair share of flack. So long as that flack is well-informed and rooted in truth, well, then it's deserved.