Alex Smith doesn’t hold any grudges toward the 49ers or head coach Jim Harbaugh, despite the organization’s dalliance with Peyton Manning in the spring, the quarterback insisted.
“It’s a form of motivation, that’s there a little bit,” Smith said Thursday during a conference call with reporters. “It was a little awkward for about a week, being in limbo on what’s going on. But I’ve never had hard feelings.”
The 49ers in March reportedly showed strong interest in acquiring Manning, then a free agent, which led some to wonder if Smith, coming off a career year, would have felt spurned. Manning eventually signed with the Broncos and Smith, 28, re-signed for three years with San Francisco.
“The great thing about Coach Harbaugh, from the moment I met him, is he’s always been up front and always tells you the truth, even if it’s something you don’t want to hear,” said Smith, who led the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game last season.
“That's the nature of the game with free agency. It was my job to compete for last year and I've certainly earned that right. I wasn’t going give it up to anybody, I don’t care who they were.”
Smith will be among 80 professional athletes competing in the American Century Celebrity Golf Championship, which begins July 17 in Lake Tahoe.
The quarterback posted career highs with 3,144 yards, 17 touchdowns, a 61.3 completion percentage and a 90.7 quarterback rating under Harbaugh, a first-year coach. Smith said there are a lot of similarities between Harbaugh and Urban Meyer, whom he played for at the University of Utah.
“In college, with Coach [Urban] Meyer, I feel like our practice habits were better than anyone else’s and that took us to the next step,” Smith said. “And I feel that's what Coach Harbaugh brought back to us. We get the most out of our practices, even with the new regulations, and I think it starts there. The thing I take from both of them is selflessness; a team-first mentality is constantly being preached. In both circumstances, I feel like both teams bought in. I think that’s really what changed things.”
Meyer attributed the difference in Smith’s production last year – in contrast to the previous five – simply, to having better players around him.
“People try to complicate things, but Alex was stuck in a tough situation for a while and the team wasn’t very good,” said Meyer, who is now the Ohio State football coach. “Defense wasn't very good, offense wasn't very good, special teams wasn't very good and the quarterback takes the blame. I got real defensive about it. I remember telling people, when people were saying he couldn't play in the NFL… He has all the tools, and on top of that he's brilliant and he’s an extreme competitor.”
Smith also addressed comments he made in May about passing yards being an “overblown” stat. Smith used Cam Newton and the Panthers as an example, saying that quarterbacks on losing teams often have their yards inflated in the second halves of games because of a dire need to pass while trailing. Newton, as a rookie, threw for 4,051 yards and was one of the 10 quarterbacks who cracked the 4,000-yard benchmark.
“I was going after the passing yards statistic,” Smith said Thursday. “I don’t really believe there's a great correlation to winning in the NFL. I don’t buy it. I think if you’re going to look at a stat with a better correlation to winning, it’s probably yards per attempt.”
After Smith’s initial comments, Panthers linebacker Jon Beason took a swipe at the quarterback on Twitter, posting: “Alex Smith, don’t hate on Cam bc your stats would’ve gotten u cut if Peyton decided to come 2 San Fran.”
Smith, Thursday, said: “Obviously I got carried away there. But to me, it’s about winning games. We played the Saints in the playoffs last year and, yeah, that offense is pretty prolific. But I’m just trying to score more points than the other team and I don’t really care how it’s done. I don’t care about how many yards I throw for.”