Panthers’ Dom Capers on Ejiro Evero, Brian Burns… and Charlotte Condos

When he arrives in Charlotte on Wednesday, Dom Capers expects the city to look very different than it did almost 25 years ago when he left.

The first coach in Panthers history returns to the franchise as executive defensive assistant to Capers quarterback Frank Reich for the first three games of the 1995 expansion season.

I think if you stay in things long enough,” Capers said, “it comes full circle.”

The Panthers announced Friday they have reached an agreement with 72-year-old Capers, the 1996 NFL Coach of the Year, after leading the Panthers to the NFC Championship Game in their second season. He was 30-34 in four seasons at Carolina.

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During a phone interview a few hours before the Super Bowl — which he was scheduled to attend with his wife at their Denver home — Capers shared his thoughts on his new role with his old team, the staff that puts empire together, and why Brian Burns succeed should be in the system of defense coordinator Ejiro Evero and in the Charlotte housing market.

Some answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.

Could you explain to me how that came together?

First of all, I always had great respect for Frank Reich. We had been there together since 1995. He was a classy guy back then and a really good leader. I’ve followed him through his career and I think he did a great job at Indianapolis. Then Ejiro Evero was a quality controller for me in Green Bay (2016). I thought he had a really bright future. He went to Sean McVay’s staff and did a great job there. You won a Super Bowl. When he accepted the job of coordinator in Denver, he called and asked if I would be interested in coming over and helping him. He did a great job in Denver this year. I think the world of these two guys. I couldn’t work for two guys I value more.

How would you characterize Ejiro’s plan? And do you see a lot of influences from you and Vic Fangio and others?

Everyone puts their own spin on things. Ejiro worked with Vic in San Francisco (from 2011-13) and that’s how I ended up at Ejiro in Green Bay. Lots of common terminology, similarities. He is very intelligent. He’s a good leader. He’s great with the players. I think the guys will love playing for him and he does a great job mixing rush and coverage.

He’s primarily a three-man front (as his base), but how diverse is he?

He has enough diversity in the program, which I think is very important in today’s world. When you’ve injured a key player from one week to the next, you need to be able to have enough flexibility to bring your best players onto the field. He did great in Denver this year. We struggled with injuries and he still kept us at the top. For three quarters of the season we were in the top five in almost everything. We had some injuries (including Dre’Mont Jones on the defensive end and full-back Randy Gregory) there at the end (and) fell off a bit. We were very competitive and I have Ejiro to thank for that. There were times when we changed the scheme a lot in a week. So he had enough flexibility there to use them depending on who he had available.

Have you looked at the Panthers’ staff enough to know if it’s a good fit for his plan?

We played them in Carolina this year. That’ll probably be one of the first things we do when we get into the office this week. We sit down and take a close look at the players. Then we’ll talk about how to build the scheme around the players.

Are there a few guys you’ve watched over the past few years that you think could make a career move with Ejiro?

I’ve always been fascinated by Burns as an outsider. That defense over the years, we’ve had great success with the outsiders and a lot of production from them. And the performance he had last year (12 1/2 sacks and 22 quarterback hits, both career highs) speaks for itself. (Derrick) Brown was one of the top guys to come out of the draft. I think he’s a very talented guy, as is (Jaycee) Horn from a reporting standpoint. It’s fun to go in there and take a good look at the defenses. I’ve always believed that you have enough flexibility in your scheme to try to feature your best players. They don’t fit the scheme. They adjust the scheme around the players. I think Ejiro did great last year. Pat Surtain was one of the best two or three corners in the league.


Brian Burns (Jim Dedmon / USA Today)

What do you think of the staff Frank has put together?

I was very impressed but not surprised. Knowing Frank, he will think things through and make the decision that he feels is best for the team and gives the Panthers the best chance of winning. I was fortunate to work with James Campen in Green Bay for nine years. I think he’s doing a great job with the offensive line. I worked with Duce Staley in Detroit for a year. I think Duce brings a lot of energy and has obviously been playing for a while. He’s going to do a great job with whatever he ends up doing with his role. Peter Hansen was with us in Denver. Does a really good job with the linebackers, understands Ejiro’s scheme. They were in San Francisco together, so they’ve known each other for a while. These two guys are on the same page. That always helps when you have people who have worked together.

What will your tasks be?

I would expect my role on Ejiro to be very similar to this year. That’s basically just to try to help him in any way we can, be it organizational. Just a bunch of things to try and streamline things for him in a way that he can spend as much time focusing on the opponent. I enjoy that. It will be 37 years for me. I had some great mentors who helped me tremendously along the way. I now find more joy in helping my boys than I did trying to succeed.

Do you have any cool stories about Frank from this first season?

They’re starting a team from scratch and he’s given us a really good lead. We made the move from Frank to Kerry (Collins) and won seven of the last 11 games as a freshman team. You couldn’t ask for more from a veteran walking in (and) giving you the lead on a team where you’ve had players from all different parts of the league.

You don’t own any property in Charlotte, do you?

In fact, I bought a property on Lake Tillery (54 miles east of Bank of America Stadium) about three years ago. It just sat there. We’ll see how it goes, but I might start building a house out there. When I was there before, we built a house on Lake Norman. We really enjoyed that. Didn’t enjoy the ride with the traffic. After sleeping in the stadium every night for a couple of years, I got a condo right across the street from the training ground.

There are a lot more condos here now.

Yes, I’m sure: Charlotte has changed enormously from 1995 to today. I look forward to coming back and trying to find something close to this stadium. Entering this stadium will be a unique experience for me. For the first year we worked at Winthrop and played our games at Clemson. I have great memories because the first year (1996) when we played at this stadium, we won every game at home and beat the defending Super Bowl champion (Dallas) in the playoffs. It’s been a magical year, brand new stadium and every game won. Fans never left with a bad feeling that year.

(Top photo of Dom Capers from 1998 at Carolina: Getty Images) Panthers’ Dom Capers on Ejiro Evero, Brian Burns… and Charlotte Condos

Russell Falcon

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