Special Assistant / Secondary Coach Dom Capers addresses the media during his conference call on February 22, 2008.
Q: Dom, welcome to New England.
DC: Thank you.
Q: I guess the best place to start is that your title is going to be special assistant. What are those duties going to entail?
DC: Well, anything that I can contribute to the staff, I'm sure that'll be ongoing. The first thing is getting in and familiarizing myself with obviously the rest of the staff and the structure of that. My primary goal will be coaching the secondary and anything else that I can contribute.
Q: You say your primary role there will be coaching the secondary?
DC: I'll be working with the secondary. Like I said, we'll kind of see how things go and whatever other things I can contribute, I'll certainly be ready. The biggest thing when you go into a new situation is you try to figure out what your role is going to be. Then you jump in and do the best job in that role that you can. One of the advantages of being a head coach for a number of years is you always knew what you were looking for in assistants and hopefully I can be that guy.
Q: Can you talk about your past relationship with Bill Belichick and how this arrangement came to be?
DC: Well, I've always had a lot of respect for Bill. It goes way back when he was the defensive coordinator with the Giants in the 80s. I was down with the New Orleans Saints from '86 to '91 and when Bill Cowher took the Pittsburgh job, I went to Pittsburgh with Bill [Cowher] as his defensive coordinator. And of course Bill [Belichick] was at Cleveland at that time and you know there's a big rivalry between the Steelers and the Browns, so I followed Bill [Belichick] there and of course had great admiration for what he's been able to do there in New England since he's been there. It's unmatched, really.
Q: When someone has as extensive a background on the defensive side of the ball as you do, how much are you looking forward to working with Dean Pees?
DC: Very much so. I've had a chance over the last few days to spend some time with Dean and [I've] been very impressed by Dean. He's a guy that's done a really good job every place that he's been. We've got a lot of common friends in the business and I think they all hold him in very high regard.
Q: You were in discussions with the Dallas Cowboys at one point about possibly joining their staff. Can you talk about why it didn't work out there and why it was able to come together with the Patriots?
DC: You never know how these things are going to go and I learned a long time ago that it's important the staffs fit together. It's like putting a team together. You have to have a feel for what everybody's roles are going to be and what they can contribute. That's what makes a good football team and I think it's what makes a good staff. I just felt going up to New England was a good fit and like I said, I've had so much respect for Bill. They're a multiple-style defense. They can play a lot of different styles. I think that's what you have to do in this era.
Q: You mentioned that you know Dean Pees. Did you actually check with Dean before you took the job to make sure it was something he was OK with, you coming onboard?
DC: Dean and I went out to dinner the night that I was there and I had a great visit with him. Like I said, we have so many common acquaintances. I felt it would be really a good working relationship or I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing it, but that wasn't the case. I felt very good about it.
Q: As someone who has watched Zach Thomas up close the last couple of years, his representative has expressed an interest in New England. Do you think a guy like that, given his style, how much would he have fit in with New England's 3-4?
DC: Well, you know I haven't had a real chance to really study the personnel, but I can say this about Zach Thomas: I've been in the NFL for 22 years now - this will be 23 years. He's one of the best preparers that I've been around. He's one of he top guys. I mean, the guy is obsessive in his preparation. He's very much a professional. He's the one who spends probably as much time as the coaches do to get ready for the game, and I think that's why he's been able to have the kind of production and the success he has over his career, because when he came in, he came in as a fifth- or sixth-round draft pick. He was a later draft pick and just through a lot of hard work and determination and commitment, I think he's really made himself into a real fine player.
Q: Sticking with linebackers here, I know you said you'll be coaching the secondary primarily, but can you talk about how the linebacker position has evolved? It seems like these guys are more versatile, they're bigger, they're stronger than maybe some of the one- or two-down players of a generation ago.
DC: Everything goes in cycles and I think you probably see a few more 3-4 now and it's been in the league for a while. You've seen it go to where there was hardly any to where there's more. I think sometimes it's the type of guys coming out of college dictate that. The flexibility that a good linebacker can give you, one that has the ability to not only rush the passer but drop into coverage and I think that is one of the advantages to have with four 'backers on the field, as opposed to three. The good thing about Bill's system is he has the ability to utilize either a 3-4 or a 4-3 and that gives you great flexibility.
Q: I know that Nick Saban and Bill are close and obviously you were on Nick's staff at Miami. Did you have any discussions with Nick about joining Bill's staff or just trying to get a feel for Bill and what to expect?
DC: Well, Nick and I go way back. I mean, we were graduate assistants together back in the early 70s at Kent State. Of course Nick was Bill's defensive coordinator at Cleveland the whole time I was Bill Cowher's defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh. Two years ago I came down here with Nick, the year before he left to go to Alabama. During that time, obviously we'd have a lot of discussions about Bill and that's where you feel like you're familiar with Bill. [I] never worked for him, having worked with Nick. Nick worked for Bill for quite a while.
Q: A lot of times you hear different players say in signing with New England, you get a chance to get the ring and that's what they play the game for. You as a coach -- was that a factor at all in your decision to come aboard?
DC: We've played against them here the last two years and of course I've coached against them for a number of years. I'll just say this, that I'm the only coach in the history of the league to start two expansion teams from scratch, so I know what the feeling is like to have to go out on that field and know that your talent's not quite up to the competition. I've got a tremendous amount of respect for what Bill and his staff have done there in terms of talent acquisition and how hard they are to line up and defend. I mean we certainly saw that this year. So, sure, I'm excited about joining the team that's had the success that they've had, because that's not always the way that it is. Certainly during the nine years that I was a head coach and when you [work with] expansion teams, you're always fighting that uphill battle in terms of trying to get the kind of talent you need to go out and have success.
Q: About eight years ago when the Patriots were wondering if they could get Bill from the Jets, your name was mentioned as a possible head coach here. Do you remember that, and how close did things actually get?
DC: I don't know how close they got. I did come up and visit with them and was real impressed with Mr. Kraft. I knew at that time he was very upfront with me, in terms of their familiarity with Bill, having him before. I visited with them and had a feeling that if Bill would be available, that would be the way to go. They certainly made the right decision, OK? All you have to do is look at what the franchise has done since that point in time. But I was familiar with the organization and familiar with Mr. Kraft and his vision and what he wanted to accomplish there.
Q: With the possibility of losing Asante Samuel to free agency, how much is that going to increase the challenge you may face of having to face the secondary?
DC: All I know about Asante is from playing against him, and he's obviously a very fine player. That's the challenge. That's the challenge in this league now, from one year to the next, you're team can change tremendously. If you do end up losing a good player you have to try to find somebody to take their place and that's an on-going challenge in this league now in terms of being able to adjust, not only your talent, but what you do based on the talent that you have.
Q: Just kind of going back to where we started here, you've been a head coach for going back to '95 - I mean, head coach or a coordinator. Your primary responsibility is going to be the secondary and that would seem like for a guy that had a lot of responsibility in other areas a step back, so to speak. Again, did you and Bill sit down and talk about anything specific with regard to the special assistant tag and what you might offer beyond coaching the secondary?
DC: Well, you know, again, I mentioned anything else that I can contribute I'll be more than happy to do. I've always enjoyed the X and O part of the game, the coaching part of the game and the relationship with the players. You certainly do have a different relationship with the players as an assistant than you do as a head coach. I enjoy the teaching aspect of it, so I'm hoping with the experience that I had in the league that I'll be able to contribute in any way that might be helpful to helping the team win, really.
Q: How much do you think it motivated Bill to hire you to think that you were the last defensive coordinator to shut these guys out, that 21-0 win you guys had in Miami in the '06 season? Do you think that that helped at all, in terms of Bill wanting to bring you in?
DC: Well, I don't know on that. I think we all know that things can change quickly. That was a good day for us and the Patriots certainly turned around. When they came down here this year it was a totally different story. Sometimes you can look pretty smart one day and not very smart the next day. There's so many variable to go into things. I think over the years we've competed against each other and both being defensive coaches going back into the 80s, Bill's Giants defenses. I used to spend a lot of time watching those and we had some pretty good defenses at New Orleans at that time. There were a lot of similarities and I think like you encourage your players to watch the top players. As coaches, you spend a lot of time watching the top defenses to see if there's anything you might be able to pick up and use within your system.