Alex Smith's maturity helps him succeed in Niners' rebirth

By Tim Kawakami

San Jose Mercury News

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 30 2011 6:00 p.m. MST

In this Oct. 10, 2010 file photo, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith (11) and head coach Mike Singletary talk on the sidelines during the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in San Francisco.

Paul Sakuma,file, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

SAN FRANCISCO — Well, Alex Smith, that was easy!

He only had to endure six seasons of pain and misery, several stubborn head coaches, many losses and more words of criticism than his family members could probably bear.

Here's what Smith says he has learned: The less he agonizes over what everybody else thinks, the more successful he can become.

In 2011, Edgy Alex — steeled and sharpened by six years of rebuke and failure — suddenly has taken over and flourished.

"When I was young, I just tried to please everybody," Smith said Tuesday in a long exclusive interview at the 49ers' facility. "Especially being the first pick (in 2005), I was, 'Man, I'm going to prove it to everybody.'

"And not just you — the media — and the fans, but my teammates, coaches ... and I'm going to do it on every single play. And with every action."

Smith recalled with some sheepishness that early in his career he sometimes kept track of his stats during games, just to try to make sure his performance wouldn't get ripped.

And now?

"I don't care," Smith said. "I'm going to focus on other stuff. I don't really care about that stuff."

Of course, Smith is never going to be too rude or even semi-insolent. He's a nice guy, in a tough man's game.

But that was part of the dilemma — Smith came to the 49ers as a late bloomer from the University of Utah who had just seen most of his dreams answered overnight by the draft.

He hadn't earned his NFL credentials. And, under the ham-handed auspices of first Mike Nolan and then Mike Singletary, Smith sure wasn't going to get a lot of help learning the quarterbacking craft.

Now, Smith is philosophical about his fierce cold war with Nolan in 2007, when the coach disparaged Smith, and Smith at one point fired back.

"I've grown up so much since then," Smith said Tuesday. "I would've just done it differently looking back. Still fight that battle, just do it a different way.

"And I would say that to him, no question. We'd probably laugh about it."

And what about Singletary, who once famously called Smith "meek" while (apparently) trying to compliment him?

"I don't want to dig up all that stuff, but (he and Singletary have) just different opinions on what strength is," Smith said. "Different opinions of what toughness is. Different opinions of what really I think being a man is, a little bit."

Does Smith believe the 49ers ever threw him under the bus during his career, as Jim Harbaugh suggested during the offseason?

"The people in this building, in this organization, have always been so supportive of me," Smith said. "I've never felt like I was a scapegoat, by any means ...

"I mean, you're the quarterback, if you lose games ... it's the head coach and the quarterback. If you're not winning, it's on you."

Smith had a chance to escape the 49ers situation last offseason, and he acknowledges that, at the tail end of 2010, he was ready for such a move.

He'd been yanked in and out of the lineup by Singletary, he'd gone through a new coordinator every season, and a fresh start with another franchise seemed enticing.

"I was pretty frustrated with what had been going on here," Smith said. "But luckily you don't have to make decisions right at the end of a season, all emotional."

Smith took some time away and decided that he didn't want to take the easy way. The lockout made moving trickier, anyway, but it was too simple to take off and let everyone assume he was blaming the 49ers for his troubles.

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