The Lord of No Rings: Chargers GM A.J. Smith's Ego Is Out of Control

Benjamin C. Klein@@BenjaminCKleinCorrespondent ISeptember 1, 2010

SAN DIEGO - MAY 03: General Manager A.J. Smith of the San Diego Chargers watches minicamp practice at the Chargers training facility on May 3, 2009 in San Diego, California. (Photo by Kevin Terrell/Getty Images)
Kevin Terrell/Getty Images

San Diego Chargers A.J. Smith appears in the midst of a bout of narcissus that is severely clouding his judgment and hurting the Bolts.

I believe Smith to be a man who cares more about his own self-image than he does about his team winning a Super Bowl.

However, just like Terrell Owens, Smith didn’t start out an egomaniac; he built himself up to that point.

And now it appears that Smith has reached his "sit-ups in the driveway" moment with his ridiculous handling of the contract extensions for Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil.

It has in fact gotten so bad that the local San Diego media, frustrated and tired with Smith’s acrimonious nature towards them and lack of success on the field have nicknamed him the “Lord of No Rings.”

This is due to the fact that Smith acts like a monarch presiding over an empire, yet he has no crown (Lombardi Trophy).

Now it has to be said that Smith is a talented general manager. He has a good eye for talent and drives a hard bargain in both contract and trade negotiations.

Yet even though Smith has assembled arguably one of the most talented rosters in the NFL year after year, he has had zero Super Bowl wins or appearances.

The following are a list of examples of how over the years of how Smith’s ego has hurt the Chargers.

1. Smith Plays “Hardball” With Marcus McNeil and Vincent Jackson

This to me is the end result of Smith’s ego running out of control, not the first sign. 

Simply put, if Smith were really concerned with doing what is best for the Chargers, which is help them win, then he would either sign or trade his star wide receiver and left tackle.

Here the Chargers are, ready to compete for a Super Bowl but their general manager cannot let his ego get out of his way. Vincent Jackson and Marcus McNeil aren’t Darrelle Revis-type holdouts; they don’t have a contract with lots of money left on it.

They are restricted free agents that Smith wants to play prominent roles on the team for peanuts. When said player’s agents informed Smith that their players wouldn’t play for peanuts, Smith decided to throw a temper tantrum.

Instead of negotiating towards new deals with both players or trading them for players who could help the team Smith decided to just sit on his hands.

While Smith is free to make the excuse that the uncertainty surrounding the CBA has tied his hands in terms of contract extensions, his decision to not trade them earlier in the offseason, when he could have gotten 2010 draft picks or players who could go through Chargers training programs makes no sense.

And not only is he not trying to sign or trade the players, he has made little to no effort to replace them. I mean Tra Thomas? Come on; was he serious with that signing?

Good luck, Phillip Rivers, trying to stay healthy with whatever no-name player they have protecting his blindside. And good luck, Phillip Rivers, throwing those deep outs; they won’t be as successful and teams will be less fearful without Jackson.

And rookie running back Ryan Mathews better be as ready as Smith thinks he is, because without Jackson he is going to see a lot of eight-man fronts on early downs.

But Smith doesn’t care about this; apparently his players telling him to stick his peanut offer where the sun doesn’t shine wounded his ego.

Apparently Jackson’s and McNeil’s valid fear of debilitating injury along with the personal pride they have to be paid the money they have earned with their play on the field angers Smith.

So Smith has decided to do what a child does, get even at the cost of the greater good. Smith is the leader of a multi-million dollar business, and he takes things as personally as a kindergartner.

However, its not like Smith just up and became an egomaniac, over the last few years there have been signs pointing to the obvious.

2. A.J. Smith Begins a Power Struggle With Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer.

This was the first sign that Smith was starting to let his ego get in the way of his job. His feud broiled so completely out of control with Marty that owner Dean Spanos was forced to pick sides, and he picked Smith.

However, this feud wasn’t a new thing when Marty was fired; in fact it was quite old. A.J. Smith became such a baby about the situation that he refused to even speak with Marty.

Think about that a minute: the general manager of a multi-million dollar sports franchise refusing communication with the team’s head coach over a personal grudge.

And what was the source of that personal grudge? Marty doesn’t know, because Smith wouldn’t talk to him about it.

So when Marty was fired, what became clear afterward is that he had no idea why.

One of the reasons rumored as to why Marty was feud over was that Smith wanted Ted Cotrell as defensive coordinator, but Marty wanted his own brother.

Since when has a head coach not allowed to have control over who is or is not on his staff?

Another reason I heard floated around Smith fired Marty was that Marty’s top two assistants, Wade Phillips and Cam Cameron, left for head coaching jobs. Since when has a coach's assistants getting poached been grounds for termination?

I thought it was cause for celebration, pride that co-workers are doing so well.

But again Marty had no idea why he was fired, because Smith is still giving him the silent treatment. What a child.

3. A.J. Smith Hires Norv Turner

Firing Marty was one thing, some NFL analysts and Chargers fans actually agreed with the move as they had become frustrated with “Marty-Ball.” However hiring Turner, a gifted coordinator but abject failure as a head coach, sent a strong signal.

The signal was that Smith wanted nothing more than a yes man, a coach who would allow Smith to run the team he wanted with nary more than a nod.

This became especially clear when Norv Turner named his new defensive coordinator; you guessed it, Ted Cotrell.

Who, by the way was a total failure, as it became evident quickly that the game had passed Cotrell by with his passive defensive play calling being completely inefficient.

And to those that don’t believe Smith forced Cotrell on Turner, remember that when Turner had interviewed for the Dallas Cowboys’ job that season he had said he wanted to bring Ron Rivera in as his defensive coordinator. Once hired by the Chargers, Rivera became their linebacker’s coach.

Another example that Turner is nothing more than a Smith puppet is second-year cornerback Antoine Cason. While the offseason trade of Antonio Cromartie was welcomed by all, coaching staff included, the coaching staff was rumored to be less than enamored with his replacement, Cason.

The fact that Cason is still penciled in as a starter when team observers report he has been totally underwhelming only further cements that A.J. Smith has final say not only on the final 53-man roster, but also who starts and who sits.

The only other coach that I know of who doesn’t have the authority to hire his own coaches is Tom Cable with the Oakland Raiders.

4. A.J. Smith Starts Drafting With a Holier Than Thou Philosophy

Over the last few years, many NFL insiders and prognosticators have become convinced that Smith was drafting players he had strong feelings for in a position that is too high for them.

Sure it’s great to have strong feelings about a player, but why take a player at 16 when you can trade back to 26 and still take him?

To prove the rest of the world that you are right, and that they are wrong. That sounds like an egomaniac to me. A.J. Smith step right on down!

Now Smith was doing a great job drafting for the Chargers until 2007. That is when his sometimes-golden touch became the touch of rust.

In the first round, he drafted wide receiver Craig “Buster” Davis out of LSU. Davis was never considered a first-round prospect by anyone else but Smith and has turned out to be one of the biggest first-round wide receiver busts of the last decade.

In the second round, Smith traded a second-round pick and two third-round picks for the right to move up and select safety Eric Weddle. Weddle, by all means, has been a nice player, with some durability issues.

Most teams had Weddle ranked as a third-round, borderline second-round pick. Not the Lord of No Rings, who decided it would be best to give up a small fortune to draft a player that probably would have been there if he had waited until the Chargers’ original draft positioning.

In 2008 Smith drafted Antoine Cason, a senior cornerback out of Arizona. Again the move at the time was questioned because Cason was viewed as a second-round talent whose future might be playing the slot.

Yet here we are, and Cason starts despite the fact that reports have continued to flow that he frustrates his coaches left and right.

That is because A.J. Smith has mandated to Norv Turner that he start, and the only reason Norv has his job in the first place is because he listens to Smith’s mandates.

In the first round of 2009, the Chargers drafted Larry English, a raw pass rushing defensive end who had no experience playing a two-point stance. Again after this draft the laughter from the draft experts was palpable.

Many thought English had potential, but that he should have been a low first-rounder and that no one thought he was a natural fit as a 3-4 outside linebacker other than Smith.

It was after this draft that any in the industry were convinced that Smith was no longer drafting with the strategy of taking the consensus best player, he would take the player he wanted, regardless of his perceived value by other people.

Now while A.J. Smith has the last say on all draft picks, not listening to other opinions is an act of pure hubris. Even Bill Belichick will listen to any opinion from any source so long as he thinks it intelligent.

And finally in 2010, Smith again traded a small fortune to move up in the draft to select a player that might have been there had he waited to his original positioning.

Running back Ryan Mathews is a nice player, one that the Chargers’ needed, however they sacrificed several other team needs to get him. They foolishly traded up too high to draft Mathews and gave up too much to even do that.

Also apparently the Chargers’ either don’t do or don’t care about background checks when evaluating players. Shawn Merriman, looking back, was an obvious ‘roider in college.

Fellow first-round pick Luis Castillo was even caught pre-draft on steroids and the Chargers still took him. Now both are constantly injured, their bodies breaking down at a “surprisingly” young age.


Simply put, A.J. Smith is an egomaniac who must be fired.

While he did a great job building the Chargers into an NFL powerhouse, he seems more content sitting on the roof watching his empire burn as he plays the fiddle instead of helping his team actually do what they are supposed to do: win the Super Bowl.


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