First thing’s first, an enormous kudos to Graham Bensinger, who somehow pulled off the most honest Alex Smith interview I have ever seen.
Now let’s dive in. Get ready to have your preconceived idea of Smith shattered into a million pieces. My thoughts are at the end.
The first part of the interview starts in Smith’s car, which has trash everywhere. There is even—and I s--t you not—six-week-old leftovers. Having been around Smith closely for three years, this is the first surprise of the interview. I would have assumed Smith would be a clean freak, but obviously quite the opposite.
Then, another surprise.
“When you’re on your way to work out, you listen to NPR to workout?” Bensinger asks.
“On my way anywhere, I listen to NPR,” Smith replies.
Smith doubles down and says he even listens to NPR heading to Arrowhead Stadium on game days.
“I’m definitely not pumping up, period, ever on game day,” Smith says. “I’m kind of the opposite. If I’m ever listening to music, it’s pretty chill music. I’m naturally pretty amped up any way. I don’t need music to jack me up more. If anything, it’s to chill out.”
Smith then reveals he plans to play for at least the next five years, maybe even seven.
Reminder: Smith will be 40 in seven years.
Onto the next video!
This part of the interview opens up with Smith talking about how he went from “underdog” to being the first overall draft selection by the San Francisco 49ers in 2005.
“You don’t get to pick where to go,” Smith laughs. “and the higher you go the worse the team! You know? There’s this direct correlation with the higher you get drafted, the worse the situation probably.”
“I played right away and had all these expectations, and man, it was heavy. I walked around with a lot of weight on my shoulders. It added to my anxiety. It added to the pressure.”
Smith says he was playing very afraid in San Francisco—he was scared of making mistakes and put a lot of pressure into living up to the No. 1 overall draft pick.
“I didn’t have a good rookie year and that added to the weight,” Smith says. “Whispers of bust and not good enough and mistake and things like that. You hear all those and you hear them really loud and it adds to it.”
Smith goes as far as admitting that sometimes it was embarrassing walking around San Francisco. There were times when Smith was computing his QB rating in the middle of games, he admits.
And then at 5:09, the money line of the entire interview, as Smith is asked if he still does that today.
“I don’t do that now, no, I got a lot more f-ck it in me than that,” he says. “It took me a long time to build that up—you care less deep down about trying to get people to like you. It took a long time and a lot of air to build up, you know, a good amount of f-ck it.”
This is officially the most candid I have ever seen Smith, who is typically pretty guarded when it comes to the media.
My mouth dropped a little when I saw the title of this one—“This could be my last year in K.C.”
And away we go.
Bensinger: “You think this has the potential to be your last year in Kansas City?”
Smith: “Yeah, for sure. It absolutely does, without a doubt. I only say that because my mindset when I got traded here was no different—like this could be my only year here. I just think you become a veteran. Structurally, the guarantees are less and that’s just the reality, right? You have to prove yourself year in and year out, and if you can’t get the job done, every team is going to try to find somebody else that can. That’s just the reality of the deal. I don’t care who you are.”
Smith goes on to say he understands how different things are when you're a 13-year veteran like himself than a rookie like Patrick Mahomes.
Bensinger is really good here—he addresses how the Chiefs could have went in a different direction to help Smith this year when the pressure is on, and they didn’t. He then asks Smith how much he struggled with the pick.
“It was hard,” Smith says. “I knew we were potentially going to take a quarterback. We hadn’t really spent a lot of draft capital on a quarterback since I’ve been here, and so I definitely knew it was a possibility, but like you said, I had a lot of expectations for us. We have a lot of expectations for winning now, and we got this window of opportunity and let’s take advantage of it. Here was a draft pick that could have maybe potentially could have contributed, who now I’m hoping sits for awhile. That’s the reality of it. It’s a tough pill to swallow a little bit, like, ‘Yeah, we could have added this, this or this position, or this player.’”
Smith seems to have found peace with the decision based upon it being out of his hands—he tells Bensinger he’s not a personnel guy and that’s not his job. What he is happy about is how much of the team the Chiefs brought back.
“I think we have everything we want in front of us, and like I said, it’s a different dynamic with Patrick on board, and that’s fine. It’s our job to go out and get it done.”
Bensinger shows Smith a video of Brett Favre on the program. Favre speaks about how it wasn’t his job to teach Aaron Rodgers at the beginning of his career. Bensinger asks for Smith’s reaction.
“My job’s to go play and play well and help us win, flat out, and that’s my job. I owe that to my teammates,” Smith says. “I’m not going to go out of my way to be somebody I’m not, if that makes sense. I think all those things I went through when I was trying to do that, when I was trying to please people, that’s not who I am, and at this point, I’m just going to be who I’m going to be, and a little bit, I’m the son of an educator. If something comes up with Patrick that I see that I want to say, I’m certainly not going to bite my tongue and not say it.”
Smith says that whether it be Tyler Bray or Mahomes, he’ll help teach them, and Andy Reid knew that.
Bensinger is then showed with Reid (7:30-minute mark). He asks Reid about the Mahomes pick.
“The reality is Alex isn’t getting any younger,” Reid says. “That doesn’t mean he can’t go on and continue to have a great career. That’s where his focus is. He’s far enough along in it, where, ‘OK, I know what you had to do. I’m not getting any younger, but go watch what I’m going to do right now,’ so that’s how we roll. That’s the name of this league. It’s not a personal thing. That’s not where we go with it.
“We felt this was a good player. We had an opportunity to get a quarterback who has a chance to be a good quarterback down the road. Hard to do when you’re a good football team to be able to put yourself in that position and do that, so, you have a chance to strike? You better strike on it.
“Now you go do your job and you play your tail off. Have the best year of your life.”
Reid says he would never ask Smith to mentor Mahomes, but it’s an excellent room in that there is always a lot of teaching going on.
The interview switches back to Smith, who explains that initially, it was awkward with Mahomes, but training camp offered an opportunity for them to get comfortable with each other, which they have done.
“We’re teammates, and yeah we compete at everything and we’re going, and [Mahomes] is young and talented,” Smith says. “I think you can almost embrace it. You can talk about it and it become less awkward because it’s there, you know it, everybody knows it and let’s move on, right? I think everybody (the team) would agree—it’s been nice to come up [to training camp] and get to football and let everybody get to know each other and let those walls and barriers get broken down.”
Smith and Mahomes clearly found peace at training camp.
Part four is about Smith losing his starting 49ers job to Colin Kaepernick back in 2012.
Smith explains how he was trying to get back from the concussion, knew Kaepernick was playing well and Jim Harbaugh told him after a couple of games he was going to go with Kaepernick.
“It was hard,” Smith says, “I mean, really hard. Here I finally felt like I had dealt with all that dysfunction, and finally coach (Harbaugh) came in and things were right, we were going, we had a good team, great staff. I felt like it was about football again. It was pure, and I had been playing good under that and was so excited. I’m like, ‘Here’s my window. I went through all that for this—it’s finally here.’
“And then all of a sudden, boom. Colin had played well those couple of games and I knew he was obviously their guy. [The new regime] had come in and drafted him. I was kind of the leftover. It was hard. You want to be selfish at that point. You’re pissed off, you’re frustrated.”
Smith says at that point he knew he was a play away, and just stayed ready for his moment—which, unfortunately for him, never came. Kaepernick led the 49ers to the Super Bowl.
“It was harder to watch that run—how well he played,” Smith says. “It was hard. I was still a captain—I still went out for the coin toss.”
Smith says he was wondering if he would play when the Super Bowl began to get out of hand, but Kaepernick and the team came back and nearly won.
Smith says while he watched, he had inner-speak—could he be the team guy? Smith calls the experience bittersweet.
“I felt like I had proven it and wanted to get back in there,” Smith says, citing the concussion protocol. “I felt like I deserved it.”
In part five, Bensinger brings up Jerry Rice at the time saying that Smith wasn’t the quarterback of the future for San Francisco.
“I knew how dysfunctional the work environment I was in at the time was,” Smith says. “The culture at the time in the building—those first six years for me—I knew that it was really dysfunctional. I knew this wasn’t the way successful places operated, but when you’re a young QB, it’s hard to vocalize that. It’s hard to stand up and say that. It’s hard to make the change because I don't at that point know what the right thing totally looks like at the NFL level because I hadn’t been around it yet.”
Smith says even despite that, he knew it was unhealthy.
“Different people on different wavelengths, not a clear communication, not a clear goal of the entire building. Very separated.”
This is so easy to relate to—in my opinion—of many complaints that you or I could have in our own workplaces. Smith continues.
“It was a very separated locker room—offense, defense, special teams. It wasn’t a selfless unit. Not everybody putting the team first. I think all those things that come with dysfunction that are the opposite of what healthy organizations and team environments have.”
Smith says it got to a point where he almost preferred playing on the road to avoid getting booed by the home crowd.
“There was definitely a few-year period where I was definitely comfortable on the road—that I looked forward to road games. That the pressure of the home game, fans turning on us, that was a lot for sure.”
Smith says the football was so bad that the fan reaction was almost justifiable.
That’s a comfortable Alex Smith
Wow, this interview really makes Thursday night’s outstanding performance—one in which Smith won the AFC offensive player of the week for—a little more conceivable, if not expected?
As many of you know, I worked for the Chiefs for three seasons and in that time watched more than 1,500 Smith press conferences live and in person. I can tell you now that in all of those, he was always very reserved—almost coming off afraid to say the wrong thing.
In the above sit-down, he is so comfortable—and with him being comfortable, the honesty flows out.
It’s refreshing, and if you weren’t a Smith supporter before, I bet watching these interviews changes your mind.
Mahomes may be here this year, but Smith has made the Chiefs a winner over the last five and deserves your support.
And even if he doesn’t have it?
Well, he’s built up enough f-ck it anyway.