Friday, October 31, 2003
Capers, architect of Carolina's glory days, faces old team
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Dom Capers coached the Carolina Panthers
to the NFC title game in just their second year. He likes what he
sees in this year's version of the Panthers.
"They play hard and have a physical style," said Capers, the
coach of the Houston Texans. "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."
Capers will be facing his former team Sunday when the Texans
(2-5) face a Carolina team that is 6-1 and shares the NFC's best
Only two current Panthers, kicker John Kasay and receiver Muhsin
Muhammad, played on that 1996 team. Kasay is the only original
Panther left on the roster.
An expansion team built by Capers to win immediately, the
Panthers came crashing down shortly after the big season. Two years
later, the veteran free agents Capers had brought in had aged
dramatically and Carolina finished 4-12. That cost Capers his job
at the end of 1998.
"I felt like a lot of things he had no influence over affected
the way the team played, like injuries and stuff like that,"
Kerry Collins, the Panthers' first draft pick, was benched and
ultimately released after Capers announced the quarterback 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
Then there was the Sean Gilbert debacle. 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.
Gilbert received a seven-year, $46.5 million contract and was never
better than average for the Panthers.
Capers quickly realized he had sacrificed too much of the
Panthers' future for Gilbert. There was no such thing as patience
at Carolina. He insists he won't make the same mistakes twice in
Houston, where he is starting his second NFL team from scratch.
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 injury.
"Last year," Capers said, "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