As a 38-year-old offensive-minded head coach for the first time in his career, Arthur Smith will have more on his plate than ever before. He knows it and that's exactly why when he presented his plan to Atlanta's brass during the interview process, he knew who he wanted to be in charge of his defense: Dean Pees.
Pees, 71, has 47 years of coaching experience and has been a defensive coordinator with three different NFL teams. And while he thought it was time to retire following the 2019 with the Tennessee Titans, he realized after being out of the game for one year how much he missed the game and being around his players.
Smith wanted Pees to join his staff and Pees wanted to work for Smith. It was a perfect pairing as the two coaches worked together on Mike Vrabel's staff in Tennessee from 2018-19.
Everywhere Pees has been success has quickly followed him. He's one of eight defensive coordinators in NFL history to coach in a Super Bowl with two different teams, the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. Now he'll be tasked with getting the Falcons' defense playing at a high level again and there isn't a better man for the job, at least according to one of his former players. "When it comes to getting a defense to buy into his message and his system, there's no other man in the NFL that a defensive-minded player would want to work for and learn under," Wes Woodyard said.
Woodyard played for Pees during his two-year stint as defensive coordinator of the Titans. The 34-year-old linebacker said Pees "is one of the best defensive coordinators to ever coach in this league."
Under Pees' leadership, the Titans ranked No. 3 in points per game (18.9) and No. 12 in 2019 (20.7). Woodyard saw firsthand the impact Pees can have on a defense from the minute he stepped in the building. Given his experience and the success he's had, Pees has the respect of everyone he has an encounter with.
"There are a lot of guys that don't have the experience of play-calling, let alone the experience of calling games in playoff moments, primetime games and Super Bowl games," Woodyard said. "Coach Pees has that experience. When you talk about schematics, he's one of the best."
Pees is known for his pressure looks and ability to create a scheme that creates confusion for quarterbacks. During his time with the Ravens, it was Pees' defense that helped Baltimore win it all in 2012. The Ravens' Super Bowl winning defense ranked 12th in scoring and peaked at the right time in the postseason registering nine sacks and 10 takeaways.
And while his scheme has certainly proved to be successful over the years, it's the way Pees leads his players is what puts him in a class of his own.
"He's a leader of men," Woodyard said. "I think the thing we most respect about Coach Pees is that he's always the same guy. He's this upbeat guy that everybody is inspired by. Coach Pees knows how to recognize what talent he has and how to move guys around and get them hot and put them into positions to make plays."