Charles Haley was no stranger to controversy during his oft-sublime 13-year Hall of Fame career. So when he returned this offseason to talk with the San Francisco 49ers, with whom he spent the first six and final two years of his career, he had a unique take on the Niners' troubled but talented Aldon Smith.
"Aldon, man, is a very, very, very talented young man," Haley said on a conference call Thursday. "He has a variety of skill sets, he's very instinctive. He's just got to stay on the field. He's just got to stay on the field."
Haley, who will be inducted into Canton on Aug. 8, also tried to use the "shock value" approach to impart a similar message to the rookies, telling them to "act like the white guys" on the team.
"They think everything's unique to them, and I keep trying to let them understand that we've all been through a lot," Haley said. "I tell them, and I know they probably got mad, but I said, 'Why don't you all act like the white guys? You never see them in the paper getting high or hitting people, doing all that stuff. Why don't you act like that?' They all, they looked at me crazy.
"I just did it for the shock value."
As for Smith, who is a sack specialist like Haley was in his playing days, Haley said he has a special place in his heart.
"He can't allow other people to push him the wrong direction. And, you know, the bad part about Aldon is that nobody is going to give him the benefit of the doubt if something happens, because of his past. And that's what I keep telling him."
Smith, 26, missed five games while in rehab for substance abuse in 2013 and served an NFL-mandated nine-game suspension last season for various transgressions. He also restructured his contract this season to make it more of a performance-based deal, essentially putting the pressure on himself to stay clean and perform.
"I told him, 'You know what, my past haunted me, but I had to make a change,' " Haley recalled. " 'I had to sit down and make a change and put my energy into playing football and not into those people that tried to hurt me. ... You get rewarded for that.'
"He's a really good kid, man, and he's just been through some things."
Haley, who won a record five Super Bowl rings and totaled 100.5 career sacks, expanded on the points he made to the team, saying younger players always need veterans to follow.
"Like Joe (Montana), Ronnie (Lott), Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, Keena (Turner), Eric (Wright), Michael Carter," Haley said. "You've got to have people that stand for something in order that you can fall behind, until you're ready to lead yourself."
Charles Haley on Aldon Smith: Very talented, but needs to stay on field