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A.J. Smith, the most successful general manager in Chargers history, has died at the age of 75

A.J. Smith, the longtime NFL executive who became the winningest general manager in Chargers history, died Sunday. He was 75 years old.

His son, Atlanta assistant general manager Kyle Smith, announced his father's death in a statement released by the Falcons. Kyle Smith revealed that his father had been battling prostate cancer for seven years.

A.J. Smith spent 35 years in the NFL, starting as a freelance scout for the New York Giants in 1977.

He worked for the Chargers twice, first as director of player personnel from 1985-86. After 14 seasons with the Buffalo Bills, where he rose to director of player personnel, Smith returned to San Diego as assistant general manager in 2001. He was named general manager in 2003, following the death of John Butler.

In Smith's 10 seasons as general manager, the Chargers won five league titles. From 2003-12, the team had 98 wins, including the playoffs, and was sixth in the league.

Despite their success in the regular season, under Smith the Chargers failed to make it to the Super Bowl. The closest they came to an AFC title was in the 2007 season, losing to the New England Patriots.

"Behind the tough, no-nonsense personality of a true soccer player was A.J.'s softer side - a tremendous love for his family, the NFL and the Chargers", Chargers owner Dean Spanos said in a statement. "The architect of one of the greatest chapters in franchise history, A.J. made everyone around him better through his exceptional focus and intensity that elevated our organization".

Smith's most notable move was selecting Eli Manning with the No. 1 pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, despite Manning saying he would not play for the Chargers.

An hour after Manning posed in a Chargers jersey with his family and then-commissioner Paul Tagliabue, his rights were traded to the New York Giants for the rights to Philip Rivers, who was selected in the fourth round. San Diego also received a 2005 first-round pick, which it used to acquire midfielder Shawne Merriman.

While Manning won two Super Bowls with the Giants, Rivers rewrote the Chargers record book in his 16 seasons with the team.

"It's pretty obvious he didn't want to be here and neither did his family", Smith said after the deal was finalized. "The San Diego Chargers have a strategy. We know exactly what we're doing. We made that choice with Eli Manning, and from there it went from there, and I don't want to reveal what we think in this building. We're very proud of what happened, too, by the way".''

Smith also famously fired Marty Schottenheimer as coach after the 2006 season when the Bolts, after winning the regular season 14-2, were defeated by New England in the playoffs. Smith recommended hiring Norv Turner as coach despite Turner having a 59-83-1 record with previous teams Washington and Oakland.

The Chargers made the playoffs during Turner's first three seasons, but after a second loss in 2012, Turner and Smith were fired.

Smith has also worked for New England, Houston Oilers and Washington in the NFL, as well as Chicago and Pittsburgh in the USFL.

Smith is survived by his wife Susan, son Kyle, daughter Andrea, son-in-law Noah and three grandchildren.

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