SI Vault
Peter King
December 21, 1998
Desperation TimeThe Bucs are making a late playoff bid, but did they wait too long?
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December 21, 1998

The Nfl

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After watching the Panthers lose to the mediocre Redskins on Sunday, the Carolina hierarchy must have grave doubts as to whether coach Dom Capers is the man to lead them into 1999, much less the 21st century.

The Panthers fell behind 21-3 en route to a 28-25 loss at Ericsson Stadium. On the sideline during the second quarter, linebacker Kevin Greene responded to a stern lecture from assistant coach Kevin Steele by grabbing him by the collar and shaking him. Capers should have sent Greene to the showers, but instead he put him back in the game. "Kevin regained his poise," Capers explained later. (On Monday the Panthers announced that Greene would be suspended without pay for this week's game against the Rams.)

Also, Sean Gilbert, the defensive tackle whom Capers pried from Washington and made the highest-paid defensive player in history last spring, had no sacks or even a tackle against his former team. "I don't remember seeing Gilbert all day," said Washington quarterback Trent Green, who dropped back to pass 43 times.

After the game Capers, who in the franchise's first three seasons had made discipline a Carolina hallmark, said his players were undisciplined. "Where does that start?" kick returner Michael Bates asked pointedly.

Since beating the Cowboys to reach the 1996 NFC Championship Game, the Panthers are 0-15 against teams with winning records. This season they are tied with the Bengals, at 2-12, for the league's worst record, and their first-round pick in next April's draft belongs to the Redskins as part of the compensation package Capers gave up to sign Gilbert. What's equally disturbing is that, while Capers and the front office have been given almost carte blanche to sign free agents, those personnel moves have not panned out.

What a turnaround in two years for the 48-year-old Capers, who had been regarded as one of the game's brightest new coaches.

Chargers Coach
'Aloha' Means 'Goodbye'

Chargers president Dean Spanos and general manager Bobby Beathard had assured interim coach June Jones that he would get a two-year contract after this season, so Jones, 45, went into a meeting last week with University of Hawaii trustees and athletic officials thinking he'd surely say no if the Rainbows' coaching job were offered. But memories of his two years playing and another season spent as an assistant coach at the university came rushing back during the interview.

"Three minutes into it I felt passion about a job that I hadn't felt in a long time," says Jones, who replaced the fired Kevin Gilbride in San Diego on Oct. 13. Jones accepted Hawaii's reported six-year, $1.5 million offer. Now he is faced with rebuilding a team that has lost its last 18 games. "Big challenge," Jones mused. "But I don't feel like I'll miss the NFL."

As for the Chargers' coaching situation, Beathard would like to retain the defensive staff, whose unit has ranked among the top five in total defense all season. To replace Jones, look for San Diego to strongly consider offensive-minded college coaches, notably UCLA's Bob Toledo and Stanford's Tyrone Willingham.

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