Friday, October 31, 2003
Capers, architect of Carolina's glory days, facing old team
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dom Capers coached the best Carolina team
in franchise history, leading the Panthers to the NFC championship
game in their second year of existence.
As Capers prepares to face his old team Sunday, on the opposite
sideline as coach of the Houston Texans, he thinks this version of
the Panthers (6-1) is even better than his 1996 group.
"I think that they are more talented overall than the '96
team," Capers said. "They play hard and have a physical style.
Their ability to run the football on offense and play outstanding
special teams and play good defense makes me think that there are
some similarities to the '96 team."
Only two current Panthers, kicker John Kasay and receiver Muhsin
Muhammad, played on that 1996 team. Kasay, the only original
Panther remaining on the roster, would love to see this year's club
play Capers' 1996 team.
"It would probably be a football purists dream," Kasay said.
"You would want to play in maybe a driving rainstorm, about 35
degrees, cold, and have John Facenda narrating the whole thing."
It's been a long time since any Carolina team could even
consider playing the 1996 Panthers.
An expansion team built by Capers to win immediately, it came
crashing down shortly after the crowning season. Two years later,
the veteran free agents Capers had brought in had aged dramatically
and Carolina limped to a 4-12 season that ultimately cost Capers
his job at the end of 1998.
There were injuries, off-field incidents and public relations
disasters that contributed to Carolina's quick downfall.
To this day, some believe Capers was wrongfully blamed.
"I felt like a lot of things he had no influence over affected
the way the team played, like injuries and stuff like that,"
Capers had little control of the Kerry Collins situation, which
quickly spiraled out of control and set Carolina's downfall in
motion. The Panthers' first-ever draft pick was benched and
ultimately released after Capers announced the quarterback had come
into his office and said his heart was no longer in the game.
Collins later received help for an alcohol problem and
resurrected his career with the New York Giants.
"It's probably the toughest thing that I had to deal with
during the four years," Capers said. "It was unfortunate. You had
a young player who was your first draft pick and he was a talented
player who had some issues that he was working his way through.
Obviously, at that position, it's hard to work through those
Then there was the Sean Gilbert debacle, considered the worst
move in franchise history.
General manager Bill Polian had left and Capers had picked up
his duties, only to sign off on the trade with Washington that sent
Carolina's two first-round draft picks in 1998 to the Redskins for
Gilbert was given a seven-year, $46.5 million contract and was
never better than average for the Panthers.
Capers regrets that move.
"Sometimes you get in a desperate situation and you don't ever
want to be in a desperate situation," he said. "You make
decisions based on the fact that you don't have anybody in a
position as opposed to being able to sit back and make long-tem
decisions that you think would be best for the organization."
But Capers quickly realized he had sacrificed too much of
Carolina's future for Gilbert.
"There was a lot of discussion on that and my initial reaction
was that it was too much," he said.
Capers has learned from his time with the Panthers and won't
make the same mistakes twice in Houston, where he is starting his
second NFL team from scratch. There was no such thing as patience
or building slowly in Carolina, but that's the Texans' motto.
Capers built the Panthers with veterans, but young players
selected in the draft are the cornerstone of the Texans. The
offense is built around quarterback David Carr, their first pick in
the draft, who won't play against the Panthers on Sunday because of
"I think that we all learn from our experiences and, as you
look back, you think about what you would have done differently,"
Capers said. "Last year we started a lot of young players under
the premise that things may not always be smooth, but would make us
better the second year and hopefully the third and fourth years
because the experience they would gain and having grown together."