SANTA CLARA (AP) — Alex Smith arrived in San Francisco with the pressure of being the No. 1 overall draft pick. He got called a draft bust, then turned the tide to win back those same fans who had booed him out of Candlestick Park.
Smith got hurt, bounced back, started and was benched, then regained his job and lost it once more. All the while as he adjusted to a new offensive coordinator and system nearly every year.
Smith will be the first to say his up-and-down tenure with the 49ers hardly went how he hoped when he left Utah as the NFL’s top choice in 2005. When he takes the field at Levi’s Stadium in the other uniform Sunday with Kansas City, there will be mixed emotions for everybody involved.
“No bitterness at all,” Smith said. “What happened there the end of the (2012) year, losing my job, you get to that point and I say this a lot, worrying about anything that was outside your control and dwelling on any of that stuff is only going to have a negative impact.”
He is coming off a statement game in a 41-14 Monday night win by the Chiefs (2-2) against Tom Brady and the Patriots. Smith threw for 248 yards and three touchdowns.
“I can’t wait to see him. Me and Alex came in together, and I’m so happy for him,” said running back Frank Gore, a staunch supporter of Smith over the years. “He’s doing a great job. We’ve got to go out there and try to get a win. But I’m happy for Alex and I love him, man.”
Smith considered leaving the Bay Area for good after the 2010 season. He stuck around, then in 2011 led teammates through their own practices at nearby San Jose State during the lockout.
He had unfinished business, and then it was time to go.
“I felt like it was complete. I felt like we had rebounded,” Smith said. “It took a lot longer than I thought, got the organization back where it needed to be.”
That 2011 year, Smith rallied his team from behind five times, including four away games, as the Niners went 6-2 on the road. His 14-yard touchdown pass to Vernon Davis with 9 seconds remaining in the NFC division playoffs lifted the 49ers to a 36-32 victory against the favored Saints.
And Smith was rewarded with a new three-year contract in March 2012 with the idea he would carry the offense again. A concussion and a strong-armed guy named Colin changed all that.
Colin Kaepernick took over for good in November and Smith never regained his job even when healthy. He was stung, angry at times, and didn’t agree with the decision. But he kept his mouth shut.
“One of the classiest people I’ve ever been around, just an all-around great guy. I don’t think anyone could have handled it any better than he did,” Kaepernick said Wednesday. “He definitely made things go a lot smoother. The way he handled things, he didn’t turn it into a controversy in the locker room. That just shows the character he has not just as a player but as a man.”
Smith finds it “funny” this week to be watching 49ers defensive stars Justin Smith and Patrick Willis on tape.
Defensive line coach Jim Tomsula was among Smith’s supporters. It was Tomsula who started him over Troy Smith, which made him a winner in a one-game stint as interim head coach to end the 2010 season after Mike Singletary was fired.
“I have a tremendous amount of respect for Alex Smith — as a man, a father, a husband, a person, and a football player,” Tomsula said. “I think he’s extremely intelligent, extremely gifted, I think he’s a winner. I don’t have a negative about Alex Smith, I just really think the world of him.”
In 2011, Smith thrived under 15-year quarterback-turned-first-year NFL head coach Jim Harbaugh and helped lead the franchise to its first postseason berth and winning record in nine years.
Largely because of Smith’s leadership then, the 49ers have emerged as a regular contender again. He threw for 3,150 yards and 17 touchdowns with only five interceptions in 2011 as arguably the biggest surprise in San Francisco’s 13-3 run to its first division title since 2002.
“We have great respect for his game. I’ve never seen Alex Smith not be good,” Harbaugh said. “I’m sure that adds to it, adds to the competitiveness the fact Alex did play here. Very happy for his success, not rooting for success for him this week.”
Andy Reid, who returned to Philadelphia in his first season coaching the Chiefs last year, offered his own insight to Smith.
“What I did was I just ordered a cheesesteak and went and coached,” Reid said. “You eliminate the clutter. You focus in on what you do. All that stuff, going home, that doesn’t mean anything.”