SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Alex Smith fought for himself when former 49ers coach Mike Singletary told him he wasn't starting last Sunday's must-win game at St. Louis.
"I don't know how much lobbying I was doing. That's not my job," Smith said Wednesday. "Definitely emotional, frustrated. I definitely voiced my opinion, that's for sure. I wasn't sitting back and taking it."
Singletary went with Troy Smith before turning to Alex Smith in the fourth quarter of San Francisco's 25-17 loss to the Rams. Singletary lost his job several hours later.
Interim coach Jim Tomsula, promoted from his defensive line duties, has made his pick: It's back to Alex Smith behind center for the team's final game Sunday at home against the Arizona Cardinals.
"Experience," Tomsula said of his reasoning.
This is likely Alex Smith's final hurrah in a 49ers uniform. The 2005 No. 1 overall pick out of Utah will become a free agent after the season, another year of disappointment as San Francisco (5-10) has missed the playoffs for the eighth straight year.
The 26-year-old Smith will wait until the offseason — coming much earlier than planned for these players who expected to win the NFC West — to contemplate his NFL future.
"It's nice to go out there and play well, period. I'm not really getting into what's going to happen after this," Smith said. "Whenever you go out there, even though it's the last game of the season and we're out of the playoffs, pride's on the line. You want to go out there and play well, no question. That's not going to change."
He has been booed repeatedly by the home crowd at Candlestick Park this year during San Francisco's struggles on offense. Smith was replaced by Troy Smith for five games from Oct. 31 through Dec. 5, initially after he separated his non-throwing left shoulder at Carolina on Oct. 24.
Singletary went back to him Dec. 12 and Smith led the 49ers to a 40-21 victory over the division rival Seahawks. The next week, though, he was sacked six times in a loss at San Diego. Smith has an 18-31 record as the Niners' starter.
While he has said in the past he wanted to prove he was worth the top pick five years ago, right now Smith just cares about his team going into the offseason on a strong note.
"Of course that desire's always there. I don't know if it necessarily goes back to the draft, per se, as where a few years ago I was not that far removed from that," he said. "At this point it's you want to go out and win, for the organization, for the fans, for the team. Any team you're a part of, you want to do it for everyone involved."
Smith is in the final year of the two-year deal he restructured in March 2009 that sharply reduced his base salary. He will acknowledge he greatly underachieved this season, with a talented receiving group featuring Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis, second-year pro Michael Crabtree and Josh Morgan.
Smith has completed 189 of 313 passes this season for 2,094 yards and 12 touchdowns while throwing 10 interceptions and getting sacked 23 times. He has a 79.7 quarterback rating.
It's been another year of drama to say the least for a QB used to nothing less so far during his up-and-down NFL tenure.
Coming into 2010, he hadn't been entrenched as the top guy since the beginning of his tumultuous 2007 season.
Smith started all preseason and the first four games in '07 before injuring his throwing shoulder. He sat out the next two games, then tried to return and played three ineffective outings in constant pain. He was sacked seven times in those three games — all losses — and that was it. He eventually had surgery in December, well after he wanted to get the procedure, but going on then-coach Mike Nolan's preferred schedule. Smith missed the entire 2008 campaign.
He replaced Shaun Hill midway through last season.
Now, Smith likely has one last game to leave his mark on this city and franchise. Not that he has turned nostalgic and given it much thought.
"That's all out there. Those are possibilities," he said of departing. "But I'll have enough time to ponder and think about all that stuff after the season."