GREEN BAY — Dom Capers has been fired before. After 46 years in coaching, including 34 in pro football, the longtime Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator knows that it comes with the territory.
Whether Sunday’s regular-season finale in Detroit will be his last in charge of the Packers’ defense, Capers isn’t sure. But after 16 coaching stops — seven colleges, two years with the USFL’s Philadelphia-Baltimore Stars and eight NFL gigs, including being the head coach of two expansion franchises he helped build only to later be fired from — Capers has learned one thing about the fleeting nature of coaching employment: What’s going to happen is going to happen.
“If you get caught up in all that, then you have no chance. Because you’re talking about something you have no control over,” Capers said Thursday. “What we do have control over — and I talk with the players about this — our job is to get ready to play each week and go out and perform at a high level. I think if you talk with any of the players, one thing I’ve always believed in (has been) always focusing on the things you have control over. And if you don’t do that in this business, then I think you’re in trouble.”
Whether Capers is in trouble or if talk of his possible dismissal is just the product of frustrated fans having the powerful megaphone of social media, it’s hard to say. Coach Mike McCarthy, who has final say over his coaching staff, has given no indication that he’s considering a change.
Last week, when asked about the team’s defensive struggles and the evaluation process, McCarthy said that it would be important to “be direct and honest and keep the emotion out of” the process, and that he would have to be “have to be honest about the patterns of negativity and positivity.”
This marks the first time the Packers have missed the playoffs since 2008. After the 2008 season, McCarthy fired third-year defensive coordinator Bob Sanders and hired Capers.
“To win championships, you have to go through adverse moments,” McCarthy said last week. “We’ve had plenty this year. Not hitting our goal, not playing to the standard of the Green Bay Packers is definitely an adverse situation we need to learn from.”
But this past spring, when asked about his loyalty to Capers, McCarthy said, “To make that change, it would give everybody a breath of fresh air. I think all of us in life have gone through experiences in our past that you may have quit on something just to get that fresh, new start. And it feels good, but in hindsight it was not the best thing for you. I know I have personally. So I’ve always held true to that (mentality) in my decision-making process.”
In his nine seasons in Green Bay, the Packers have had a top-10 defense only twice, in his first two seasons, although the 2014 defense was one of the NFL’s best in the second half that season.
During Capers’ first four seasons, the Packers finished seventh in scoring defense in 2009 (18.6 points per game), second in 2010 (15.0), 19th in 2011 (22.4) and 11th in 2012 (21.0); and they finished second in yards allowed in 2009 (284.4 yards per game), fifth in 2010 (309.1), 32nd in 2011 (411.6) and 11th in 2012 (336.8).
During Capers’ past four seasons, the Packers finished tied for 24th in scoring defense in 2013 (26.8 points), tied for 13th in 2014 (21.8), 12th in 2015 (20.2) and 24th in last year (24.3); and they finished 25th in yards allowed in 2013 (372.3 yards per game), 15th in 2014 (346.4), 15th in 2015 (346.7) and 22nd last year (363.9).
Entering Sunday’s game, the Packers are 21st in scoring defense (23.3) and 22nd in yards allowed (348.4). They’re 20th against the run (116.1), 22nd against the pass (232.3), 28th in third-down defense (allowing a 43.4 percent conversion rate) and 31st in red-zone defense (allowing a 66.7 percent touchdown rate).
“I just know that the coaches, we prepare as hard as any coaching staff. The players, they give it up every single day in practice. (But) when it gets to the games, whether it’s a lack of production, whether it’s a lack of play-making, whether it’s a lack of continuity, (we’re) not getting the job done,” linebackers coach and assistant head coach Winston Moss said last week. “It’s obviously not there. Stats prove it out.
“Given an opportunity, we’ve got to work it out. It’s got to get worked out. Got to get guys to stay healthy, got to get them productive, got to get them playing on the same page, got to get this defense unified. That’s at least my viewpoint.”
Asked directly whether he expected to be back in 2018, Capers replied, “My plans are from week-to-week in this business. You learn that after 32 years in the league. My plan right now is to try to get the guys ready to go win a game against the Lions. One thing I’ve learned through a long career is you don’t want to spend any time in this business concerning yourself with things that you don’t have any control over.
“You put the blinders on, you go to work, you try to be consistent in the way you do things and try to get guys ready to play.”
And if that’s not enough?
“I’ve been down this road a bunch of times,” said special teams coordinator Ron Zook, who was fired from head coaching jobs at Florida (2004) and Illinois (2011). “I think most people know it’s a part of the business. It’s the way it is. That first time it happens, it’s kind of a shocker. It also depends on how you handle it.
“I know guys that have been coaching as long as I have understand it is part of the business. You don’t look at it as, ‘Oh, gosh, I can’t coach anymore.’ We’ve got a great staff, we really do. There’s going to be a lot of really, really good coaches – probably, just because that’s the way it is – (who) lose their jobs. It’s part of it. You feel bad for them.
“Where I’m at in my career, maybe it’s a little easier for me than some people. The big thing, you’ve got to finish strong. That’s what this staff is doing. That’s what Mike is preaching. We’ve got to make sure we coach them to the end.”
Daniels dinged up
Defensive tackle Mike Daniels was added to the injury report with a shoulder injury.
He was listed as having been a limited participant, and his inclusion on the list gave the Packers 15 players on the report. … Of those, seven players did not practice at all and will likely be listed as doubtful or ruled out for Sunday’s game: Wide receivers Geronimo Allison (illness), Jordy Nelson (shoulder) and Davante Adams (concussion); guard Jahri Evans (knee); running back Aaron Jones (knee); linebacker Nick Perry (ankle/shoulder) and tight end Richard Rodgers (shoulder).