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EBR: A closer look at Dean Pees, why he's here, his philosophy and first impressions of Falcons

Who is Dean Pees and what’s being written about the 71-year-old? Why has he decided to come out of retirement a second time to coach with Arthur Smith?


Good morning and welcome to a revamped version of the Early Bird Report, where we discuss anything and everything being written or talked about when it comes to the Atlanta Falcons.

Today's topic: New Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees.


A little more than 10 days ago, Falcons coach Arthur Smith made the first significant decisions of his tenure here in Atlanta when he announced that Pees, Dave Ragone and Marquice Williams would be joining his coaching staff as coordinators.

Ragone is the offensive coordinator, Williams is the special teams coordinator and Pees will call the shots on defense.


Who is Dean Pees?

So, who exactly is Pees and what's being written about the 71-year-old who has decided to come out of retirement a second time to coach with Smith here in Atlanta?

After coaching in the college ranks – which included stops at Navy, Notre Dame, Michigan State and four other schools – Pees was hired by Bill Belichick in New England in 1994. Pees was the Patriots' linebackers coach for two seasons (2004-05) before taking over as defensive coordinator in 2006, a post he held through 2009.

The highlight of his tenure there was when the Patriots beat the Philadelphia Eagles 24-21 in Super Bowl XXXIX.

Later that year, Pees joined John Harbaugh's staff with the Baltimore Ravens and coached there for eight seasons. Pees was originally hired to be the inside linebackers coach, a post he held from 2010-11. He was the defensive coordinator from 2012-17.

Pees earned a second ring when the Ravens won Super Bowl XLVII, beating the San Francisco 49ers 34-31 to cap the 2012 season. After the 2017 season, Pees announced his retirement.

In late January of 2018, Titans coach Mike Vrabel lured Pees out of retirement. From 2018-19, Pees was the Titans defensive coordinator while Smith has served as the offensive coordinator the last two seasons. Pees retired again in January of 2020.


Third time the charm for Atlanta?

Pees has now come out of retirement twice. In previous stops with the Patriots and Ravens, he earned Super Bowl rings. And it's worth noting that as the Titans defensive coordinator, Tennessee made an impressive run to the AFC title game last year.

So, I guess it's only fair to wonder, will Part III of his impressive coaching career finally be the charm … for Atlanta? Can Smith, Pees and Co. get the Falcons back on the winning track and, at some point, claim the NFL's ultimate prize?

The Falcons have advanced to the Super Bowl twice in franchise history and lost both times. Atlanta lost to the Denver Broncos, 34–19, following the 1998 season in Super Bowl XXXIII. And then 18 years later, the Falcons lost 34-28 in overtime to the Patriots in Super Bowl LI following the 2016 season.

Why did Pees come back again?

In case you didn't see, listen or read about his first press conference as the Falcons defensive coordinator, Pees was asked why he's decided to come out of retirement and return to coaching again. His response – which you can watch and listen to above – was simple.

Pees missed the game.

As D. Orlando Ledbetter of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution noted in his story, Pees talked about how he used to do a radio show in Tennessee and during the week he'd look at and study all of the other team's offenses.

"The more I watched, the more I missed it," Pees said.

Pees also said that he thinks "the world of Arthur Smith. I loved working with him." Tori McElhaney of The Athletic wrote about Pees’s decision to return and how his prior coaching experience with Smith "was more of a partnership and less of a competition."

"I came here because of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Smith," he said.


Can Pees fix the Falcons defense?

The Falcons finished 4-12 last season and have missed the playoffs for three straight seasons. In 2020, the defense surrendered 398.4 total yards per game, which was fourth worst in the league. Atlanta's pass defense was even worse, giving up a league-worst 293.6 yards per game through the air.

"One of the things that our defense will know, if you're on our defense, every position will blitz," Pees said. "Every position. Not just the safeties. Not just the linebackers. It's corners. It's everybody."

It's no coincidence that the Falcons have struggled getting to the passer and generating pressure over the last three seasons. See Atlanta's sack totals from the last three years below:

In short, Pees and the Falcons defensive coaching staff will have their work cut out for them as they begin to implement changes that will likely coincide with roster moves. At least Falcons fans can take some comfort in knowing that Pees has experienced a good amount of success throughout his career.

Most recently, the Titans ranked third in scoring defense under Pees in 2018 and 12th in 2019. Check out the five things to know about Pees story that appeared on back on Jan. 22. It provides a thorough breakdown of his track record and success over the years.


Another big question right now is, what exactly will his defense in Atlanta look like and does Pees have the right players in place to turn things around?

"Our talent and our roster will dictate what we're going to do," Pees said.

When asked if the Falcons will employ a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, Pees said he gets asked that a lot and answered it by saying, "Yes."

So … both? Correct. Pees said he likes to mix things up and give opponents multiple looks up front while, at the same time, keep things on the back end simple.

Or, as Pees describes it, "multiple but simple." Again, he said, the talent on the Falcons roster will dictate much of the decision making. And based on what Pees said on Friday, he seems to like at least some of what he's seen so far of the Falcons defense.

One game in particular stood out to him.

"They looked pretty dadgum good against Kansas City," Pees said. "They played as good as anybody has against them."

"I'll tell you what I really, really like about them is — first of all — they're young," Pees said. "And second of all, they run, and they like to hit. And those are two things you don't really ... it's harder to coach."

One would think Pees knows talents when sees it, especially when considering some of the more notable players he's coaches over the years.

New England Patriots

  • LB Tedy Bruschi
  • LB Mike Vrabel
  • DE Richard Seymour
  • CB Asante Samuel
  • DT Vince Wilfork

Baltimore Ravens

  • LB Ray Lewis
  • LB Terrell Suggs
  • S Ed Reed
  • DL Haloti Ngata

Tennessee Titans

  • DE Jurrell Casey

Much will be determined for the Falcons over the coming weeks and months. The Falcons will have to make some tough decisions in free agency and have to hit on their draft picks come April.

For now, Smith continues to fill out his coaching staff. Aside from adding Pees, the Falcons have hired several other coaches on the defensive side of the ball.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed here belong to Matthew Tabeek and not the Atlanta Falcons, unless noted otherwise.

Atlanta Falcons have named Dean Pees defensive coordinator. Pees previously coached at the Tennessee Titans, Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots.