Smith, David Warner and Cameron Bancroft were all suspended for their roles in the incident when sandpaper was used to rough up the ball during the third Test in South Africa in March.
"The whispers were there," Langer said of the team under former coach Darren Lehmann in a British Sky TV interview reported in Australian media Thursday.
"Once upon a time, the opposition didn't like us because we played really good, hard cricket -- we were very skilful and we won a lot of games.
"It's easy to dislike the opposition if they're good, but there have been too many whispers in the last 12 months or so about the abuse on the field, or dare I say, the side playing like spoilt brats."
He said that as a former player he "nearly died" when he heard about the scandal.
"So you've got to wonder why it gets to that point? But it has happened now and we have got to make sure we learn from it and get better from it because we can't shy away either."
The scandal was preceded by several other unseemly incidents in the South African series: a stairwell clash between Warner and Quinton de Kock, and Nathan Lyon dropping the ball on a prone AB de Villiers after he was run out.
Why is Warner so angry?
Asked about the difference between the aggressive side he once played in and Smith's team, Langer pointed the finger at the captaincy.
"I think Steve Smith maybe just wasn't strong enough in his leadership," he said.
"But he loves the game of cricket -- he practises harder than anyone I've ever met -- and he is a very, very nice young lad. There's no doubt about that.”
Current skipper Tim Paine was also asked during the same television interview about how the Australia team found itself in such a dark place during the South African tour.
"I don't think it goes back to any one individual, but not living by our behaviours over a sustained period of time -- not one year, two years, but probably even longer than that," he said.
"It meant that something like Cape Town was probably going to happen, due to brushing over little things. But the little things can turn into big things when you take your eye off the ball."
Warner, who like Smith is serving a one-year ban from state and international cricket, was blamed for developing the ball-tampering plot and instructing Bancroft to carry it out.
Langer said he "has got that -- you used the word, mongrel -- bit of bite in him".
"The question I'd ask with David is how he got so angry?"
Langer took charge of his first game on Wednesday, with Australia losing the opening match of their one-day series in England by three wickets at The Oval.
First Published: June 14, 2018, 8:27 AM IST