Dean Pees is the first to admit that he’s been pretty spoiled over a 39-year coaching career.
In his first job, as the defensive coordinator at the University of Findlay in Ohio, Pees celebrated a Division II national championship. He’s coached under Lou Holtz, Nick Saban, Bill Belichick and now John Harbaugh. In eight seasons as an NFL assistant, Pees hasn’t had to deal with anything worse than a 10-6 regular season.
Pees’ latest opportunity – one that Harbaugh and some of his players said couldn’t have been any more deserving – came Friday when the Ravens handed Pees the key to their vaunted defense, and empowered him with the task of making sure the group’s tradition of dominance continues.
“It's an incredible opportunity to be a defensive coordinator for anybody in this league, at any level, but it’s especially humbling to be one for the Baltimore Ravens,” Pees said. “There has been a strong tradition here throughout the years. I can’t say enough about our defensive room and what it’s like to be a part of that.”
The Ravens named Pees, 62, the team’s new defensive coordinator, while Harbaugh announced that offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and assistant head coach/ special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg also will return.
The announcement came one day after the team’s former defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, was introduced as the new head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, and just five days after the Ravens’ season ended with a stunning 23-20 loss to the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game.
“We care about Chuck and he did such a great job. We’re proud of the opportunity that he has. At the same time, it’s an opportunity to move forward,” Harbaugh said. “Dean’s been here for two years now. I think if you get a chance to talk to any of our players, they’ll tell you what a great football coach this man is and what a good person he is too. We go back a long way. I’ve always respected his work, always respected the kind of person he is. He’s been in the NFL, he’s worked in college. All the way through the ranks, he’s been one of the top coaches around and the record speaks for itself. The tradition of this defense will continue and it will flourish and it will be even better. It will be in Coach Pees’ hands.”
Peeshas spent the past two seasons as the Ravens’ linebackers coach after a six-year stint helping run Belichick’s defense in New England. Pees was the Patriots’ linebackers coach for two seasons and their defensive coordinator for four. During Pees’ four-year tenure as defensive coordinator, the Patriots were the only team in the NFL to finish in the top 10 in scoring defense each season, allowing less than 20 points per game every year during that span.
However, Pees left New England following their 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens in 2009 in a game in which Ray Rice ran all over the Patriots’ defense. There was some suggestion that Pees was forced out either because of the defense’s untimely performance or a medical condition that resulted in a brief hospital stay. However, Pees reiterated Friday that he was not fired and he “decided to explore other avenues, and this was a great avenue to explore.”
Asked what he learned during his tenure in New England, Pees smiled and said, “Win. We won there and we’re winning here. Every place I’ve been I feel like I’ve had an opportunity to work with just some unbelievable people. You learn something from everybody. You learn something from every assistant you work with, every coordinator that you work with. It’s not just New England. It’s everybody. It’s a culmination of a lot of years, being with a lot of people, seeing a lot of different things. I’ve been in a lot of different schemes and there’s no one scheme that is great. If that was the case, everybody would be playing that scheme. It’s what fits your personality. It’s what fits your personnel most of all.”
Pees is the Ravens’ fourth defensive coordinator in as many seasons. Four of the Ravens’ previous five – Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan and now Pagano – have gone on to be head coaches elsewhere.
All of those coordinators had their own personalities and styles from the bombastic Ryan, to the fiery Pagano to the assured Lewis.
“You have to put your own stamp on it. That’s a challenge,” said Harbaugh who was coached by Pees as a defensive back at Miami of Ohio in 1983. “For the last four years here, they’ve all done it incredibly well. We’ve been third, third, third in scoring defense. Our goal is to be first. That’s the next step for us. We want to be the best in the league at everything we do and to me, Dean Pees, along with the rest of our coaching staff, that’s the emphasis here … You’re going to see a fiery Dean Pees and you’re going to see an aggressive defense, just like you’ve seen in the past. We’ll be getting after people. That’s the plan. That’s not going to change. We’re going to build on that.”
Under Pagano this past season, the Ravens finished the regular season ranked third overall in total defense, second in rush defense, fourth in pass defense, third in points allowed per game and first in red-zone defense. They also ranked first in the AFC with 48 sacks, 21 more than they had the previous season.
The group’s success, which continued in the playoffs when it forced the Patriots’ Tom Brady into two interceptions, was one more reason that the team felt it was important to promote from within. In fact, Harbaugh said that he didn't even look outside the organization for his next defensive coordinator because the Ravens already had so many capable assistants.
“I think it’s part of the reason why we’ve been good for so long,” said veteran linebacker Jarret Johnson who was the lone player at the news conference. “In the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve never had a guy from the outside come in who is going to bring in all his own coaches, who is going to bring in all his own players and revamp. Guys have come in from other places but they’ve been on the staff for a good amount of time, and they learn what we do here and how we do it. When they get their opportunities, they have their tweaks and their improvements but they don’t totally change what we’ve done here.”
On Pees, Johnson said, “When Dean speaks, everybody listens because you know you’re about to learn something. He commands a lot of respect just from his voice and the way he handles the room. You can tell when he talks, he’s had a lot of football experience in a lot of leadership positions, whether it is head coach or coordinator.”
Said linebacker Jameel McClain in a statement released by the team: “He is a great coach. He really fits the player’s personality so well. He is a proven winner in this league. I have been around many coaches in my football career, and Dean Pees is as sharp and aware as they come. We are lucky to have him as our coordinator, and I expect great things from our defense.”
Pees said that his first order of business is solidifying his staff. The team needs to hire a linebackers coach and may need to hire replacements at other positions, especially if some defensive assistants follow Pagano to Indianapolis.
Then, Pees, who is known for his meticulous film study, will watch tape to see areas where he might be able to make some adjustments with the defense. However, he warned not to expect too many changes.
The scheme his defense played in New England is similar to the one that the Ravens currently employ.
“In the next few months, that’s always our biggest challenge, to go back and try to recalculate what we did wrong -- it wasn’t a lot -- and make it better,” Pees said. “It’s really self-scouting and taking a good, hard look at us.”
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