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O'HARA: Capers has experience working with new coaching staffs

Dom Capers is a coaching lifer, and what a life it has been and still is.

Capers is firmly entrenched in the game. He is preparing for his 47th season as a coach and first with the Detroit Lions, with the title of senior defensive assistant.

While Capers' duties might seem a little vague as "senior defensive assistant," his presence is not.

He is a valuable resource for head coach Dan Campbell and defensive coordinator Aaron Glenn in particular, two key leaders of the Lions' renaissance regime that has taken over to rebuild the franchise in a new model.

Capers has done that again -- and again, and again, and again -- since getting his first job in the NFL with the New Orleans Saints in 1986.

He has been part of new coaching regimes as defensive coordinator of the Steelers (1992) and as head coach of two expansion franchises -- Panthers (1995) and Texans (2002).

Whether it's a rebuilding project, retooling or something in between, starting over with a new staff is a massive undertaking.

"There are so many things," Capers said this week. "I've been blessed to be with first-year operations a number of times.

"It's always fun to go in and put in a new system and try to get to know the players and see how it works."

Capers has a connection with Glenn that made him a natural choice for his position as a senior assistant to help Glenn navigate the rough waters he is likely to encounter in his first season as a coordinator.

Glenn played three of his 15 NFL seasons at cornerback under Capers at Houston (2002-04), and the two made a lasting imprint on each other.

Glenn has spent the last seven seasons coaching defensive backs for the Browns (2014-15) and Saints (2016-20).

As a player and assistant coach, Glenn was known for his work ethic and attention to detail. Capers has similar traits as a coach. One former NFL executive said of Capers: "He's great with X's and O's."

"The first thing, what Dom Capers brings, obviously is a wealth of knowledge, being around this league a long time," Glenn said in a Zoom interview this week. "He was my coach when I played with the Texans. He knows defense.

"The second thing I can tell you, he's been in this division (NFC North) for a while. I joked with him the other day, he's making the rounds.

"He's a dang, good coach. He brings a wealth of knowledge to this team, which will help me quite a bit."

Capers, 70, grew up in Ohio and played college football at Mount Union, a Division III powerhouse. He was bitten by the football bug, and after graduation got into coaching as a grad assistant at Kent State. He had the good fortune of coaching future Hall of Fame linebacker Jack Lambert in his first year at Kent State.

After three years he moved on to Washington, Hawaii, San Jose State, California, Tennessee and Ohio State for his last two years in college (1980-81).

The next stop was pro ball -- two seasons in the USFL with the Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars franchise.

The next move was to the NFL and the Saints, under head coach Jim Mora, who took his Stars staff -- Capers included as coach of defensive backs -- to the Saints.

That's where Capers had his first rebuild project, with more to come.

Regardless of the franchise or the circumstances under which he arrived, the offseason routine is familiar to Capers.

"We meet in the mornings and talk terminology, talk scheme, talk philosophy," Capers said. "In the afternoon we evaluate free agents.

"When we're done with free agency and get our draft list, we'll be doing that. It's basically player evaluation in the afternoon."

As Glenn said, Capers is familiar with the NFC North. Capers was Green Bay's defensive coordinator for nine seasons (2009-17), and he was senior defensive assistant of the Vikings in 2020.

The one year he has been out of football was 2018, but he managed to stay involved with a side job with the Jacksonville Jaguars.

"My wife (Karen) had all these cruises and all this stuff hooked up for me," Capers said. "I had my computer with me and I took off all the Jaguars games and wrote reports on all the games and sent them back.

"We were in New Zealand and Australia and I was sending them back to Jacksonville. She (Karen) realized then that I wasn't ready to start the cruise business."

Capers likes planning and preparing in the offseason, and he likes how the Lions are approaching it.

"There's a lot of excitement of being involved at this point," he said. "I've got a lot of respect for Dan and his visions -- what he likes this team to look like. And with Aaron, I think both will put a lot of thought into what they want the defense to look like when we take the field.

"I think both will hold everybody, players and coaches, to a certain standard. That's what you need in this business. In this business, we're judged by deeds, not words.

"There comes a time where you have to go out on the field and perform -- and perform at a high level."

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