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Focused A.J. Smith Endures Fan Unrest

Chargers GM defends staff, forges ahead

By Michael Gehlken
|  Tuesday, Jan 25, 2011  |  Updated 6:29 PM PDT
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San Diego Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith stands by the caliber of people in his organization.

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In the past seven seasons, Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith has served a championship-starved city seven platters of inaccessible product.

Filet mignon with a plastic spork. Lobster bisque with a butterknife. Super Bowl hype with no trophy, over and over.

Bon appétit.

In light of annual letdowns that include a 3-5 record in the playoffs and a recent 9-7 season that fell short, Smith said Friday he understands any fan frustration or impatience. That said, he takes exception to a perceived growing local sentiment that those atop the Chargers organization are incompetent or incapable of guiding the franchise.

“When I think of what we've accomplished — first of all, we're not world champions, and I don't like it,” said Smith, who is entering his ninth season as GM. “But when I think about the last eight years of where we are, I just wish people would be a little bit — and I'm trying to get a pulse from other people I hear, that none of us are good enough.

“In the National Football League, I get the opposite opinion from owners, general managers and executives as they talk about our organization. And sometimes I feel others feel we're all very worthless people. That bothers me. I don't know if that's a theme that's existing, but I don't believe that's true.”

Annual heartbreak aside, maybe the past eight years haven't been so bad.

In 2003, Smith inherited a franchise living in the lowest of lows, a doormat that experienced neither a playoff berth nor winning record for seven straight seasons, the second-longest famine in team history.

The Chargers now, for the first time in their 41 years in the NFL, have gone seven straight seasons without a losing record. Before this past season, they had five playoff berths in six years, the best stretch since their AFL inception 51 years ago.

A total turnaround, but still, no Super Bowls.

Hence the palpable ongoing fan irritation on radio shows, article comment sections, message boards and word of mouth.

The fans are starving.

“I've always said the passion of the fan is unbelievable, and it's a good thing,” Smith said. “They want it now. They want a world championship right now, and if the people that are there can't provide it, then get somebody else in here that can because we want a parade, and we want a trophy. We want it. That doesn't bother me as much. It's part of the whole thing.”

What did bother him was the 2010 season, a campaign he calls a “wasted year.” He wants no more of it.

Smith did not watch the playoffs. He will not watch the Super Bowl. He is too consumed by April's draft, studying college film in his second-floor office inside the Chargers complex.

On Feb. 7, the day after the Super Bowl, a new football year begins. Smith will hold a two-day conference with several team executives. They will evalutate the organization from top to bottom, from every player, doctor to individual staff member.

Then they get back in the kitchen. They cook something they hope, for once, goes unspoiled.

“Eighty (wins) in eight years. Five AFC West Division Championships,” Smith said. “When we did go (to the playoffs), we didn't do anything with our opportunity. ...Overall, I think we're a good football team and a good organization, and I think we've got some good people, but this is unacceptable.

“We have blown, in my opinion, the opportunity in '10. It's gone. We cannot get it back. What are we going to do about it? What are we going to do about it? We're going to hit '11; that's what we're going to do. We're going to get after it. We're going to have some answers, and we'll rebound back.”

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