San Francisco 49ers Coach Jim Harbaugh did what everyone thought he would do: he announced that Colin Kaepernick would be his starter and not Alex Smith. Coaches decide to make changes all the time, but it was particularly difficult to watch Smith talk about his benching Thursday afternoon.
“It [stinks],” he said by way of an opening statement to reporters. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Smith will back up Kaepernick on Sunday in the 49ers’ game against the St. Louis Rams and, most likely, will continue in that role until Harbaugh changes his mind. It has to be particularly galling, given that Smith was the NFC offensive player of the week the last time he played in a full game, completing 18 of 19 passes against Arizona on Oct. 29. In the eight quarters before his concussion, he completed 32 of 35 passes for 385 yards, five touchdowns, one interception and a 140.2 passer rating.
“You state your case with your play,” Smith said. “I feel like I’ve done that. I feel like the only thing I did to lose my job was get a concussion.”
Harbaugh likes the idea of going with the hot hand and the 8-2-1 49ers have won two in a row with Kaepernick at QB. Smith said the decision “was a tough pill to swallow” and was one he didn’t agree with.
“No resentment. I don’t get to make those decisions. That’s what he gets paid to do. He’s the head coach.” Smith said. “I play football. That’s what I’m going to continue to do. Continue to get ready. And make the most of my next opportunity.”
It’s a cruel turn of events for Smith, but there’s no villain here. Not Kaepernick, with his play or Harbaugh, who had to make a choice and will face no end of second-guessing if he’s wrong. Still, none of that makes it any easier for Smith, who has, Ann Killion of SFGate.com writes, been through so much since he was the 49ers’ top pick in the 2005 NFL Draft.
He’s been vilified, booed, benched, mocked. He’s played through injury — encouraged to by his coach at the time. He’s learned seven different playbooks. He learned the seventh so well that he taught it to the rest of the offensive players, including rookie Colin Kaepernick, while the players were locked out.
That’s when things changed. After years of incompetent coaches, Smith finally had a terrific coach and an innovative coordinator and he flourished. He went 13-3, had a playoff game for the ages against New Orleans and was one play away from the Super Bowl. He was Jim Harbaugh’s “guy” — his reclamation project, his AT&T caddie, his pad-thumping partner.
This season, despite the red flag when Harbaugh considered Peyton Manning, Smith picked up where he left off. He went 6-2 and leads the league in completion percentage, is fifth in the league in quarterback rating. He received a hero’s welcome at AT&T Park during the baseball playoffs. In his last full game, Smith completed 18 of 19 passes and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career. Against St. Louis he took a brutal hit, but a few plays later threw a touchdown pass.
And then he reported that his vision was blurry. And now he’s lost his job.
Alex Smith is right. This [stinks].