Capers, architect of Carolina's glory days, faces old team

Updated: October 31, 2003, 3:45 PM ET

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 record.

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," Muhammad said.

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 Giants.

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 together."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index