Chargers GM explains Tomlinson’s release; teammates react to the news

Sports Radio Interviews is a streaming independent sports blog which provides analysis on breaking sports news, upcoming games, and sporting events from a sports radio perspective. SRI articles frequently appear on SportingNews.com.

There has been reaction galore since news broke of LaDainian Tomlinson’s release by the San Diego Chargers. XX 1090 in San Diego spoke with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, who explained the thought process behind the decision; longtime teammates Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who spoke as highly about LT as a person as they did about him the football player; and Lorenzo Neal, the fullback who paved the way for much of LT’s success.

Following are excerpts from those interviews. For a longer transcript, go to Sports Radio Interviews.

Smith on why the team opted to release LT now rather than closer to the March 5 deadline for making such transactions:

"Well, what we decided to do is, we still have more meetings and we’ll wrap those up before the third or fourth of March, but we had discussed LT first, and with the Combine starting right now out of respect, and everybody’s leaving tomorrow or the next day, everyone is there at the same time. All the agents are there, they have a convention; everybody in the National Football League is there. It would give him an opportunity with his agents to explore the possibilities for another team and get a jump-start on the process, which is really why we did it now."

Philip Rivers on the news: "It's always tough any time you lose a teammate."
Philip Rivers on the news: “It’s always tough any time you lose a teammate.”

Smith on how the thought process regarding LT’s situation in San Diego dating back to this time last year:

"Well, we looked at the big picture a year ago. John, you’re right on that. What we wanted to do is have a three-year contract in place so that we would know exactly what the monies would be in ’09, ’10, and ’11. Because you know and the fans know, we have so much that we’re looking at to try to fix on this football team in the upcoming years, that it basically was a year-to-year situation. For this year, we decided this particular year to go in a different direction."

Listen here to Smith’s interview.

Philip Rivers on how he found out about the news and what his reaction was:

"Well, I guess I was in the weight room when he was released, and I was made aware down here about a half hour ago or a little more. It’s always tough any time you lose a teammate, whether that be a trade, free agency or in this case after an unbelievable nine-year career here with the Chargers. LT, what he’s meant to this organization and this community, is really unmatched. What he did on the field speaks for itself, and the No. 21 jerseys and the kids and people that he’s affected, unbelievable. I’m sure those No. 21 jerseys will continue to be rampant in that stadium for many, many years"

Rivers on if he was able to speak to LT today:

"The thing about this that I always hate being a player that will return next year is anytime a veteran player or a player’s career will no longer continue here, you feel horrible. We didn’t win a championship while this group was here, while this guy was here. Especially LT, what he’s done. When he got here in ’01 and where we’ve come in large part due to his play, where we are now to not win a championship. You hate for him to be leaving without one. And that is what I tried to express to him. You remember every guy. In the past five or six years, you lose guys and you hate it that you didn’t win a championship while they were here. But again, our friendship, and being a teammate of his, and having him stand right there beside me or behind me every play was a real treat and certainly an honor to play with him."

Listen here to Rivers’ interview.

Gates on his initial reaction to the news of LT’s release:

"Yeah, it’s just a sad day for the Chargers, the city of San Diego. You’re talking about a guy in LaDanian that I think knowing him and I played my whole career with him, so obviously he has a warm part in my heart. Obviously this is a situation with the business, and that’s something that will happen to just about every player in the National Football League."

Antonio Gates was hopeful the Chargers could find a way to keep L.T.
Antonio Gates was hopeful the Chargers could find a way to keep L.T.

Gates on if he thought it was ever a possibility that LT would finish his career in San Diego:

"Personally, I just thought they would find a way to keep him. I didn’t know the real inside of what was going on, you know, negotiation reasons, what they wanted to do as far as extending him, did they want him to take less money. But when you talk about a guy like LaDanian, you talk about a guy who means so much to the organization. But we all know that one person is not above an organization and obviously that was the circumstance. It’s just one of those situations where you hate to see it happen, but you knew it was coming, you had a feeling it was coming. And this past season, since I’ve been playing with him, this was the only season I felt different about how he felt about being in San Diego. So I just had a feeling at one point this would happen. But it came a lot sooner than I thought."

Gates on LT as a teammate away from game days:

You know what, the thing about LT is you look at him as a player as a phenomenal football player – Hall of Famer, MVP guy. But the person that he was was more impressive than than the football player that he was. I think that’s something being in that locker room I can share, my teammates can share about him. Because he not only carried himself first class on the football field, but off the football field he was a first class act as well. That’s something you can learn when you think of leaders, when you think of guys that lead teams to victories and are class acts off the football field, LaDanian Tomlinson is definitely a guy that stands for that."

Listen here to Gates’ interview.

Neal on being shocked about the news, even if he knew the day was eventually coming:

Yeah, without a doubt. It’s a tough day, and it’s a sad day I think for San Diego and it’s a sad day for the National Football League. You knew it was coming but like I said, it’s not the crash that killed you, it’s the sudden stop. We knew it was coming, it’s just tough."

Neal on their special relationship:

"You know, me and LT, we have a great relationship. Like I always say if you listen to all the different times I’ve had to comment about LaDanian Tomlinson – LT will always be a better person than he is a football player. Football’s what he does, it’s not who he is, and that doesn’t determine the size of the man’s heart…"

Neal on how much left he thinks LT might have in the tank:

"He can definitely can still be a dominant player in the National Football League. I think LT, you’ll see him this year, he’s going to play with a passion, he’s going to play with a big heart, and I think he’s going to be successful. But it’s just tough man, it’s tough. When you’re put in that position – you know, LaDanian he goes from a team that’s committed to running the ball. Let’s not get it twisted. If you look at San Diego and their philosophy, it’s now to be a finesse team. And it showed up in the play. They are no longer a physical smash-mouth team. That’s the way that Norv Turner has changed this offense. He’s the head coach, they’ve got a dynamic quarterback in Philip Rivers and a lot of great talented receivers in Malcolm (Floyd) and those other receivers that they have. And Antonio Gates. So this is what they are. They’re a vertical team. They can spread people out and go deep, and they’re a passing team now. So it’s tough. I think LaDanian wants to be in a position where he feels he’s appreciated…You wish the best for LaDanian because he’s an incredible athlete and he’s an incredible person."

Neal on if he too believes that LT might have a big year this coming season given how he might be extra motivated to prove he’s not done just yet:

"You know what? I kind of tend to see it that way too. I think that any great player, I think when you push any great man or great person and push him into a corner. Think about a cat – they’re always running, they don’t like it. But if you get a cat and you push him in that corner, and that cat’s got a fight. Oh my, be careful. Wrap up your hands because you’re going to come out with some scars and some cuts. I think LaDanian now, he’s pushed in a corner. Everyone’s looking at him. LaDanian, is he done? This is a man that lives for that type of moment. And I think that you will see LaDanian come back from in the corner from the beginning, from the opening day, and I think that this guy – given the right opportunity, going to the right office that suits him and believes in his passion – I think LaDanain Tomlinson will finish in the top 5 to 6 in rushing this next year, if that right opportunity presents itself, and barring injuries."

Listen here to Neal’s interview.

Sports Radio Interviews is a streaming independent sports blog which provides analysis on breaking sports news, upcoming games, and sporting events from a sports radio perspective. SRI articles frequently appear on SportingNews.com.

There has been reaction galore since news broke of LaDainian Tomlinson’s release by the San Diego Chargers. XX 1090 in San Diego spoke with Chargers general manager A.J. Smith, who explained the thought process behind the decision; longtime teammates Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates, who spoke as highly about LT as a person as they did about him the football player; and Lorenzo Neal, the fullback who paved the way for much of LT’s success.

Following are excerpts from those interviews. For a longer transcript, go to Sports Radio Interviews.

Smith on why the team opted to release LT now rather than closer to the March 5 deadline for making such transactions:

"Well, what we decided to do is, we still have more meetings and we’ll wrap those up before the third or fourth of March, but we had discussed LT first, and with the Combine starting right now out of respect, and everybody’s leaving tomorrow or the next day, everyone is there at the same time. All the agents are there, they have a convention; everybody in the National Football League is there. It would give him an opportunity with his agents to explore the possibilities for another team and get a jump-start on the process, which is really why we did it now."

Philip Rivers on the news: "It's always tough any time you lose a teammate."
Philip Rivers on the news: “It’s always tough any time you lose a teammate.”

Smith on how the thought process regarding LT’s situation in San Diego dating back to this time last year:

"Well, we looked at the big picture a year ago. John, you’re right on that. What we wanted to do is have a three-year contract in place so that we would know exactly what the monies would be in ’09, ’10, and ’11. Because you know and the fans know, we have so much that we’re looking at to try to fix on this football team in the upcoming years, that it basically was a year-to-year situation. For this year, we decided this particular year to go in a different direction."

Listen here to Smith’s interview.

Philip Rivers on how he found out about the news and what his reaction was:

"Well, I guess I was in the weight room when he was released, and I was made aware down here about a half hour ago or a little more. It’s always tough any time you lose a teammate, whether that be a trade, free agency or in this case after an unbelievable nine-year career here with the Chargers. LT, what he’s meant to this organization and this community, is really unmatched. What he did on the field speaks for itself, and the No. 21 jerseys and the kids and people that he’s affected, unbelievable. I’m sure those No. 21 jerseys will continue to be rampant in that stadium for many, many years"

Rivers on if he was able to speak to LT today:

"The thing about this that I always hate being a player that will return next year is anytime a veteran player or a player’s career will no longer continue here, you feel horrible. We didn’t win a championship while this group was here, while this guy was here. Especially LT, what he’s done. When he got here in ’01 and where we’ve come in large part due to his play, where we are now to not win a championship. You hate for him to be leaving without one. And that is what I tried to express to him. You remember every guy. In the past five or six years, you lose guys and you hate it that you didn’t win a championship while they were here. But again, our friendship, and being a teammate of his, and having him stand right there beside me or behind me every play was a real treat and certainly an honor to play with him."

Listen here to Rivers’ interview.

Gates on his initial reaction to the news of LT’s release:

"Yeah, it’s just a sad day for the Chargers, the city of San Diego. You’re talking about a guy in LaDanian that I think knowing him and I played my whole career with him, so obviously he has a warm part in my heart. Obviously this is a situation with the business, and that’s something that will happen to just about every player in the National Football League."

Antonio Gates was hopeful the Chargers could find a way to keep L.T.
Antonio Gates was hopeful the Chargers could find a way to keep L.T.

Gates on if he thought it was ever a possibility that LT would finish his career in San Diego:

"Personally, I just thought they would find a way to keep him. I didn’t know the real inside of what was going on, you know, negotiation reasons, what they wanted to do as far as extending him, did they want him to take less money. But when you talk about a guy like LaDanian, you talk about a guy who means so much to the organization. But we all know that one person is not above an organization and obviously that was the circumstance. It’s just one of those situations where you hate to see it happen, but you knew it was coming, you had a feeling it was coming. And this past season, since I’ve been playing with him, this was the only season I felt different about how he felt about being in San Diego. So I just had a feeling at one point this would happen. But it came a lot sooner than I thought."

Gates on LT as a teammate away from game days:

You know what, the thing about LT is you look at him as a player as a phenomenal football player – Hall of Famer, MVP guy. But the person that he was was more impressive than than the football player that he was. I think that’s something being in that locker room I can share, my teammates can share about him. Because he not only carried himself first class on the football field, but off the football field he was a first class act as well. That’s something you can learn when you think of leaders, when you think of guys that lead teams to victories and are class acts off the football field, LaDanian Tomlinson is definitely a guy that stands for that."

Listen here to Gates’ interview.

Neal on being shocked about the news, even if he knew the day was eventually coming:

Yeah, without a doubt. It’s a tough day, and it’s a sad day I think for San Diego and it’s a sad day for the National Football League. You knew it was coming but like I said, it’s not the crash that killed you, it’s the sudden stop. We knew it was coming, it’s just tough."

Neal on their special relationship:

"You know, me and LT, we have a great relationship. Like I always say if you listen to all the different times I’ve had to comment about LaDanian Tomlinson – LT will always be a better person than he is a football player. Football’s what he does, it’s not who he is, and that doesn’t determine the size of the man’s heart…"

Neal on how much left he thinks LT might have in the tank:

"He can definitely can still be a dominant player in the National Football League. I think LT, you’ll see him this year, he’s going to play with a passion, he’s going to play with a big heart, and I think he’s going to be successful. But it’s just tough man, it’s tough. When you’re put in that position – you know, LaDanian he goes from a team that’s committed to running the ball. Let’s not get it twisted. If you look at San Diego and their philosophy, it’s now to be a finesse team. And it showed up in the play. They are no longer a physical smash-mouth team. That’s the way that Norv Turner has changed this offense. He’s the head coach, they’ve got a dynamic quarterback in Philip Rivers and a lot of great talented receivers in Malcolm (Floyd) and those other receivers that they have. And Antonio Gates. So this is what they are. They’re a vertical team. They can spread people out and go deep, and they’re a passing team now. So it’s tough. I think LaDanian wants to be in a position where he feels he’s appreciated…You wish the best for LaDanian because he’s an incredible athlete and he’s an incredible person."

Neal on if he too believes that LT might have a big year this coming season given how he might be extra motivated to prove he’s not done just yet:

"You know what? I kind of tend to see it that way too. I think that any great player, I think when you push any great man or great person and push him into a corner. Think about a cat – they’re always running, they don’t like it. But if you get a cat and you push him in that corner, and that cat’s got a fight. Oh my, be careful. Wrap up your hands because you’re going to come out with some scars and some cuts. I think LaDanian now, he’s pushed in a corner. Everyone’s looking at him. LaDanian, is he done? This is a man that lives for that type of moment. And I think that you will see LaDanian come back from in the corner from the beginning, from the opening day, and I think that this guy – given the right opportunity, going to the right office that suits him and believes in his passion – I think LaDanain Tomlinson will finish in the top 5 to 6 in rushing this next year, if that right opportunity presents itself, and barring injuries."

Listen here to Neal’s interview.

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