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.
"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.
And Smith looked at the big picture.
"This is what I've started to understand: Where do I have a chance to have success, and by success, I mean win games?" Smith said.
"And for me, it was an easy decision. It was very clear that this was it. I knew the talent we had here. I knew the guys we had. We didn't have a bunch of knuckleheads. We've got a great group.
"Then I liked what I was hearing from Coach Harbaugh."
Yes, Harbaugh. That guy.
Smith was already on the path to edginess, but joining up with Harbaugh certainly didn't hurt the process.
What Smith says he admires most in Harbaugh is that the coach doesn't worry about what anybody else thinks.
After six seasons in partial NFL hell, Smith was 100 percent ready for that.
"The thing I take away most is it's just that mindset, it's that attitude," Smith said. "It's that chip and how to use it."
Yes, Smith has a chip on his shoulder, and he didn't mind when I pointed it out.
The chip definitely showed up when I asked if he believes he needs to kick the passing game into gear to win in the playoffs.
"Where I'm at, I just don't give a crap about that right now," Smith said of his 9-2 team, on the brink of clinching the NFC West crown. "We're winning games, playing football, you know what I'm saying?
"I'm having such a good time playing football and trying to get better at my position and trying to strive for that each and every week, I guess I just don't give a crap right now."
He wouldn't have said it that way six years ago. He would've tried to be nice about it.
Edgy Alex doesn't play it that way; he's an overnight miracle, after six nightmare seasons.
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