There are 32 of them now, neatly stored in his third-floor office at Lambeau Field. Those who’ve seen them are amazed by their meticulous nature, by the perfect penmanship, by how thoroughly the thoughts and events of Dom Capers’ life are organized and recorded.
His father gave him the first journal on Christmas Day, 1981, and it was the perfect gift for a son who’d always loved detail. As a kid growing up in Buffalo, Ohio, he would mow neighbors’ yards to earn extra money – and edge each lawn by hand. With a fork.
And so, when Eugene Capers died of a heart attack three months later at age 57, his son began filling the pages. He obsessed about his health, jotting down his body fat percentage, his cholesterol count, every run or workout. He detailed everyday activities – movies he’d seen, sermons he’d heard in church, conversations he’d had, trips he’d taken. Having studied psychology in college at Mount Union, he chronicled the various thoughts that crossed his mind, in good times and bad. He took notes at every coaching stop – from Ohio State, where he was a 31-year-old assistant when his dad gave him that first leatherbound journal, to the USFL's Philadelphia/Baltimore Stars, to every one of his NFL jobs – about every team meeting, practice and game.
To this day, Capers orders a new edition of the same calendar book each year through the mail. While he keeps the previous years’ journals in his office, he takes the current one with him wherever he goes.
Oh, to read what the veteran defensive coordinator is writing these days about his Green Bay Packers defense.
We don’t get to, of course. And, truth be told, we don’t need to. Because Capers is so consistent, because those who know him best will tell you that his even-keeled personality never changes, we can safely believe that what he’d say about this year’s defense wouldn’t be vastly different than what he would have said five years ago, when he got the job.
‘Ups and downs’
In fact, here’s what Capers said on Jan. 19, 2009, the day Packers coach Mike McCarthy introduced him as the team’s new defensive coordinator:
“In this business there are a lot of ups and downs. So if you can develop an approach to handle the ups and downs and not get too high with the highs and not get too low with the lows, I think it is important when guys walk in every day that you aren't one way one day and another way the next day,” he said that day. “They know what to expect, that you are going to be consistent more than anything else. I think consistent but demanding. Try to define things as much as you can in terms of what is going to be expected.
“I think communication is a key because many times there is something lost in the communication in terms of, ‘This is what we expect.’ There are certain things you can't compromise (like) the type of effort you play with on defense and your preparation in terms of knowing your assignments. I think if you can do a couple of those things, it goes a long way to of giving you a chance in every game in terms of playing as hard as you can and knowing what to do. Because I think a lot of games are lost because teams will beat themselves. There is a difference in the effort and intensity that teams play with.”
That same day, Capers talked about his defensive philosophy. As the 2013 team’s run defense has imploded – plummeting from No. 3 in the league after six games to No. 26 in the league entering Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons at Lambeau Field – his words then explain what’s going wrong now, and why his game plans might not be as aggressive as he would like them to be.
“All defensive players like to play aggressively. (But) there's a lot of things that factor into that,” Capers said then. “I think if you can play aggressively and stop the run, that's the best of both worlds. I think that's where things have to start. The number of things you can do and how aggressive you can become is based on your ability to No. 1, not let people run the football on you so you can dictate the down-and-distance situations. And if you can get offenses into (defensively) advantageous down-and-distance situations, now it opens up a whole lot of things that you can do.
“But if they always keep you in second-and-5, second-and-4, that type of thing, then it takes a little bit of your aggressiveness away because you've got to find some way to get that run stopped, try to get people into predictable down-and-distance, and then I think you can give them a lot more problems.”
Asked Friday whether the team’s inability to stop the run lately has affected how he calls a game, Capers replied, “Yes. Believe me, the game situations always change how you call a game. … I’ve always felt that if you could discourage people from running the ball early, a lot of times they get away from it. Now, you can start doing a lot of those things and create problems.
“Hey, we have to get back, and this week we have to go out there and shut down their run game. If we can do that, then normally you can find ways to put pressure on the quarterback, and normally, that’s where the turnovers come from.”
For 17 minutes Friday, Capers stood outside the Packers’ locker room, talking with reporters. It is a weekly ritual, one that tends to follow the same script each time. He is always forthright with his answers, willing to explain aspects of scheme, deliver a scouting report on the upcoming opponent, dole out praise for his guys who are playing well. But do all the Googling, Binging and Lexis-Nexising as you can stand, and you are unlikely to find a single instance of Capers publicly ripping a player. He is more likely to take the blame himself than hang one of his players out to dry.
That was the case again on this day, too. He couldn’t even bring himself to criticize departed safety Jerron McMillian, whom the team released earlier in the week after two disappointing seasons.
“I’ve been in this league long enough that many times I’ve seen guys released and they catch on with someone else and it’s the right situation and their careers take off,” he said optimistically.
But there were also a host of questions about Capers job security, about how a segment of the team’s famously passionate – and, sometimes, overzealous – fan base is calling for his ouster, about whether his players are still buying into his system.
And true to his personality, Capers’ tone of voice never changed; he even smiled as he answered a question that essentially asked him if he’d gotten too old for the job.
“If you’ve known me for my whole career, I don’t get caught up in a lot of those things because I know you’re going to go through periods like that,” Capers said. “I’ll just tell you: If I didn’t think I could do it as well know as I did 20 years ago, I wouldn’t do it. That’s just me. I’ve got to feel as though I’ve got something to give, and I feel that way. I don’t feel that’s changed one bit.”
No retirement plan
As a result, at 63 years old, Capers said Friday he has no plans to retire. When the Packers were winning Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season – when Green Bay ranked fifth in the NFL in fewest yards allowed and second in the league in fewest points allowed – some wondered if Capers might be hired away and get one last shot at being a head coach after building the expansion Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans. Now, while McCarthy has publicly backed him at every turn, social media and sports-talk radio are abuzz with fans’ frustration with him.