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Why Dean Pees' post-practice speech on a defensive culture shift matters

The defensive coordinator didn't hold back in a passionate speech about the defense following the Falcons fourth day of training camp. 

Can we be real for a second? When people think of the Atlanta Falcons over the last 20 years, what do they think of? Chances are they do not think of the Falcons defense.

Right? Can we agree on that?

They'll think of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Michael Vick and Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Currently, Kyle Pitts and Drake London may come to mind. And I don't think it's an exaggeration to say so.

But what of the defense? Honestly, not a whole lot, right? Because what do you think of when you think about Atlanta's defense? Is the defensive reputation of the Falcons franchise of the last couple decades just a shrug and a, 'Yeah, but we had Mike Vick, though.'

You don't think a long-time defensive coordinator like Dean Pees knows what the reputation of the unit he took over in Atlanta is? He does.


The last thing I want to do as a writer is get in the way of my subject's message. That's not what I am going to do here. So, here's what Pees said. Unfiltered, and unedited.

Read it. It's important because of its implications:

"We've talked about it before. We talked about it a little bit last spring. We're changing the culture around this daggum place and it's not going to be mediocre. It's not going to be average. It's not going to be in the bottom half of the league like it's been 15 out of the last 20 years. Sick of that crap. We've got to take charge and it's not going to be anybody else to do it but us. OK? I'm tired of everybody telling us how bad we are because after a while you start believing it. Just like they say you never tell your children stuff like (that). You get mad at a teacher telling some kid he's stupid, right? Don't ever tell somebody that because pretty soon they start believing it. Guys around here on defense sometimes believe that 15th is OK or whatever. Been in the Top 10 one time out of the last 20 years. That bullshit's over. Sorry, I'm getting fired up today but I'm getting tired of this crap. We're going to change the culture of the defense around this freaking place."

"People are going to start talking about the Atlanta defense like they did Baltimore, like they did at New England. It's going to be the same shit around here. Excuse me. I'm sorry for swearing."

Truth be told, I'm not.

If you want your players to be impassioned - to play with passion and swagger and all the things that make a defense great - doesn't that passion have to start somewhere? Perhaps it begins with a coach who's not silent or willing to sit in mediocrity? Sure it does.

Pees is stating here and now - four days into the 2022 training camp and at the onset of a rather lengthy and large organizational transition - that he's done with average.

The defensive coordinator spoke on this topic at length, and I highly encourage you to listen to his press conference in full. It's was an honest conversation that really got me thinking about other conversations I've had with Pees in the past. If you listened to the Pees in a Pod podcast that ran prior to training camp, you heard Pees discuss his near 50-year coaching career. Something that sticks out to me with greater emphasis now in light of his most recent speed is this:

Pees has said that, of course, the Super Bowls he won with Baltimore and New England were great. A fantastic highlight of his career. Something he will always - always - remember. But was it the most meaningful? The most gratifying? Surprisingly, no.

Pees has said on a couple occasions that the most meaningful moments of his career involve a culture shift. There's meaning in taking a high school football team in Ohio and turning them into a contender after only every winning a couple games a year. There's meaning in taking a Kent State team that hadn't had a winning season in a decade and developing them into a program that finally got over .500. These are the things Pees finds meaning in.

So, does it at all surprise you that he's in Atlanta now? With this context highlighting his personal conviction to take something and make it better, no one should be surprised by the passion of which this one speech yielded on the 30th of July in Atlanta.

When Pees was hired as the Falcons defensive coordinator last year, he said then that he came out of retirement for Arthur Smith. He wanted to coach on a staff where Smith was the head man in charge. And while I am absolutely sure that's a huge part of his reasoning, something leads me to believe that changing the defensive culture in Atlanta was a major drive for Pees to make his return to the league, too.

Pees likes to joke that when he came to New England and Baltimore the defenses were already established, so his mission was simply not to screw anything up. There was no culture shift needed there. There was no mediocre reputation to challenge. It was simply about staying the course.

What he's attempting to do in Atlanta is different. Very different. After 20 years in the league, Pees is undertaking one of his biggest challenge yet: Getting people to think differently about the Atlanta Falcons defense. Reputations carry weight, and when it comes to how Pees sees the years-long reputation of this Atlanta defense, he knows it must change.

He wants to be the one to help it do that.

So, don't overlook or pass over what Pees is explaining. Make no mistake about it: This one speech is the microcosm - the epitome - of why Dean Pees came to Atlanta.

He came to Atlanta to change the way people think about Atlanta Falcons defense. If he can do that, it should be one the biggest accomplishments of his career.

Back Together Saturday at Flowery Branch was a blast!


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