Alex Smith had just led Utah to an undefeated season as a junior and a program-announcing win over Pittsburgh in the Fiesta Bowl.
Still, he hadn’t entertained being drafted in the NFL at all, let alone as the first overall pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
“I didn‘t even think about it. I didn’t dare to. It seemed absurd,” Smith said during a recent appearance on “In Depth with Graham Bensinger,” a YouTube-based sports interview show. ”To be honest, not even until probably after my last college regular game did I think that was a possibility.”
Smith sat down for a lengthy interview with Bensinger to discuss everything from his career at Helix Charter High School in California to the start of his 13th season in the league with the Kansas City Chiefs.
The former Utes QB was critical in the interview of his first six seasons with the San Francisco 49ers in which the team went 19-31 over his 50 starts — calling his time with the franchise “really dysfunctional.”
“I knew that this wasn‘t the way that 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,” Smith told Bensinger. “At that point, I don’t know what the right thing totally looks like at the NFL level, because I haven’t been around it yet. I do know that the situation I was in was not the right way.”
Smith discussed butting heads with 49ers coach Mike Singletary, a rotating cast of offensive coaches and criticism from NFL all-time great Jerry Rice.
“To be so vocal about me, clearly his lack of support and what he thought about me were certainly heard,” Smith said. ”Certain times, those were hard to cancel out. So yeah, you hear them. You know they‘re there. It’s tough.”
The situation in San Francisco deteriorated so badly, that Smith said he preferred to play away from the home fans at Candlestick Park.
“There definitely was a [few years] where I was far more comfortable playing on the road,” he told Bensinger. “That I looked forward to road games ... the pressure of the home game, fans turning on us, that was a lot. For sure.”
Smith rebounded when coach Jim Harbaugh took over in San Francisco, but lost his starting job to Colin Kaepernick after a concussion in 2012 and watched as Kaepernick led the team to the cusp of a Super Bowl title.
“It was a hard situation. I think it‘s easy to look back in hindsight, like if you look at that run of games, Colin was playing really good football. We were winning, we were rolling. So I get that,” Smith said. “Was I playing good football too? Was it different? Yeah. Do I feel I could have helped us? Yeah. I don’t know, I think everybody was trying to be selfless and do what was best for the team.”
Smith was traded to the Chiefs in 2013 and has led the team to the playoffs three times since before starting this season off with a four touchdown performance and win over the New England Patriots.
Kansas City coach Andy Reid acknowledged he had been keeping an eye on Smith throughout his career, going back to having discussions with then Utah coach Urban Meyer and Ute defensive coordinator Kyle Whittingham.
Still, despite his recent success, the Chiefs traded up to select Texas Tech quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.
Smith is taking the high road, however, mentoring Mahomes while still preparing to go out and play every game.
“As flashy as draft picks are, the reality of them helping out, Year One anyway, is not necessarily the case. That‘s not the reality,” Smith said. ”So, yeah, I think we’ve got everything we want in front of us. Obviously, it’s a different dynamic with Patrick on board. That’s fine and it’s our job to go out and get it done.”
He also recalled the frustration, and that he felt “deceived” during his first season at Utah after burning a redshirt year despite attempting only four passes that season.
Despite his lengthy professional career, Smith said he could have never imagined the success he’d have.
“When you go to the University of Utah, we certainly had guys go on and play, right, and have NFL careers. But the last quarterback at that point to have gone on and played was Scott Mitchell,” he told Bensinger. “I mean and that was in the 80s. This wasn‘t like we were pumping out college quarterbacks that were having NFL careers.”