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Former Chargers GM AJ Smith Dies at 75 | National

AJ Smith, former general manager of the then-San Diego Chargers, died Sunday. He was 75. Atlanta Falcons assistant general manager Kyle Smith, AJ’s son, and his family announced the death Sunday. The elder Smith died after a seven-year battle with prostate cancer. Smith began his NFL personnel career as a scout with the New York Giants in 1977, and progressed through his career until his eventual promotion to general manager with the Chargers in 2003. He held that position for ten seasons. During that span, the Chargers won five division titles and finished eight straight seasons with a record of .500 or better. Smith was the winningest GM in Chargers history, as San Diego totaled 98 wins (including postseason) during his 10 seasons in charge. “AJ’s softer side, which included an immense love for his family, the NFL and the Chargers, was a tough, matter-of-fact and no-nonsense personality synonymous with that of a true football man,” said Chargers owner Dean Spanos . said in a statement on Sunday. “AJ, the architect of one of the greatest chapters in franchise history, made everyone around him better with a unique focus and intensity that has taken our organization to the next level.” Smith had some high-profile moments during his tenure in San Diego. Smith went ahead and selected Eli Manning with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, despite father Archie Manning asking the team not to select his son. Smith then traded Manning to the New York Giants for quarterback Philip Rivers (the fourth pick) and also received draft picks that were used to select linebacker Shawne Merriman and kicker Nate Kaeding. The trade worked out for both teams, with Rivers posting Chargers franchise marks of 59,271 passing yards and 397 touchdowns. Manning won two Super Bowls with the Giants. After Rivers’ second season, Smith allowed Drew Brees to leave as a free agent and turned the club over to Rivers. Brees had injured his shoulder in the 2005 season finale and underwent major surgery before recovering and becoming a star with the New Orleans Saints. The Chargers went 14-2 in 2006, but were defeated 24-21 at home by the New England Patriots in the postseason after blowing an eight-point lead in the fourth quarter. That led to the firing of coach Marty Schottenheimer, whom Smith had refused to talk to during the campaign because of their frosty relationship. The coaching search took place in February, which led to Norv Turner becoming the new coach. San Diego reached the 2007 AFC Championship Game before losing to the Patriots in Foxborough. The Chargers haven’t progressed that far since then. Smith famously signed Antonio Gates as an undrafted free agent in 2003. Gates, a college basketball player, holds the team’s all-time records for receptions (955), receiving yards (11,841) and touchdown receptions (116). Smith and Turner were fired after a 7-9 season in 2012. After his tenure with San Diego, Smith spent three seasons as a consultant with Washington before announcing his retirement in 2015. Smith is survived by his wife Susan, son Kyle and daughter Andrea. son-in-law Noah and three grandchildren. –Field-level media