FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. – Dean Pees had something important to say and it simply couldn't wait. The 2022 season was complete, and Monday was the team's last day coming to work, so postponing his address even a day meant news would be delivered indirectly.
That's not how Pees operates.
"I don't like texting. I don't like telling people over the phone," Pees said. "I want to tell you in person what I think and how I feel. That's the most genuine way to do it. I've been that way as a coach."
Fittingly, his last act in the profession was handled exactly that way.
It was genuine, honest, from the heart.
Pees spoke to a group of players he has come to love, and told them about a decision he made over the weekend.
He was going to retire. Unlike previous retirements, there will be no coming back.
Pees made that clear in the team meeting and at a press conference shortly after.
"I'm done as a coach."
Pees explained why he was stepping away, highlighting two main reasons he and his wife Melody weighed while deciding the next step.
"Right now, my ego and my heart tell me to stay," Pees said. "But my mind and my body told me it's time."
He expanded on that point a bit, citing a cold he couldn't shake for months and how the lack of sleep was catching up to him. He had seen several players and coaches stick around a year too long. He didn't want to do that to this group.
"I think I still maintained an okay attitude and worked hard developing the game plan, but the hours – when you get to a certain age, it's hard to put in 85 hours a week," Pees said. "This thing is trending in such a great direction that I don't want to be a deterrent if I start to fade. I've seen it enough times where folks say they'll go one more year and it doesn't work out well."
Pees had another year on his contract, so he could've stayed. He still has the acumen and professional ability to execute his job well, but there was another draw outside the profession pulling him away.
"I owe it to my wife and my family to give them time," Pees said. "You never know, at this age, how much longer you have. It really weighed on me. My family has sacrificed so much. My wife has sacrificed so much for my career. I know she wants to travel. …I've also lost a couple of coaching friends this last year who retired. That bothered me a little bit. At what point in time do you not try to fulfill some things with your family. I have a bunch of grandsons who are all playing football and other sports. I want to watch them. Sometimes I didn't get to see my kids very much because of this profession. I would like the opportunity to see my grandkids play and be a bigger part of their lives."
This meeting was Pees' last act as a coordinator and coach, ending a stellar 50-year run through the high school, college and professional ranks that included two Super Bowl victories. He's highly regarded among some of the NFL's best defensive coordinators for his innovative play designs and play calling.
Pees doesn't think about his impact on the game that. He cares more about the people, the players and coaches he gets to work with.
Proof of Pees' unassuming nature occurred last year, when he asked legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau for an autograph.
"He said, 'why are you asking me?'" Pees said. "I said, 'Look at all you've done.' He turned it back around and said, 'look at all you've done.' That meant a lot to me. But, honestly, I don't see myself in that way at all. I tried to do my job and do it honestly, to be loyal to all the guys I have worked for."
Pees was not a social or professional climber. He spent some time as Kent State head coach and never assumed the position again, choosing instead to focused on calling defensive signals. He was never looking for that next gig to see "if the grass was greener." He focused instead on what was important to him.
The people. The players. The relationships.
That was especially true of the Falcons organization and the players on this roster.
"The hardest part of the decision was them," Pees said. "I love being around the team and this defense. Where they've come from the beginning of this year to where they are now, I've never had a defense do that. … To see a team that improved that much and bought in that much is really tremendous. I just can't say enough good things about them."
We take a monochrome look at the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on January 8, 2023.