As they left M&T Bank Stadium Sunday night after a 31-27 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, defensive coordinator Dean Pees and his wife, Melody, were emotional as they said goodbye to team and stadium officials they’ve gotten to know well since joining the organization in 2010.

Today doesn’t figure to be any easier for Pees. After spending six years as the team’s defensive coordinator, the 68-year-old will inform players at a morning meeting at the Under Armour Performance Center that he is officially retiring.

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Pees confirmed his plans in a text message this morning to The Baltimore Sun.

Pees’ decision, which has been expected in recent weeks, comes a day after a crushing loss to the Bengals who scored the game-winning touchdown on an Andy Dalton 49-yard pass to Tyler Boyd with 44 seconds remaining. The loss kept the Ravens out of the playoffs.

The ending marred a season in which the Ravens finished 12th overall in total defense, sixth in points allowed per game and first in caused turnovers.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh will now have to fill the defensive coordinator vacancy for the fourth time in his tenure. His three previous hires were internal promotions, including the elevation of Pees who had been the Ravens linebackers coach in 2010 and 2011 before Chuck Pagano left the organization to become the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

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Ravens linebackers coach Don “Wink” Martindale could be next in line for the promotion to defensive coordinator. He’s extremely popular with the players and he’s been lauded for his work in the development of C.J. Mosley, Zachary Orr and Matthew Judon.

There are also a number of well-respected defensive minds with Ravens’ ties who are suddenly available. That list includes Pagano, who was fired Sunday by the Colts; Jack Del Rio, who was fired Sunday as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders; former Colts defensive coordinator Ted Monachino and Detroit Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin who could be available after the Lions fired head coach Jim Caldwell this morning.

Ravens defensive players want coordinator Dean Pees back

The defensive coordinator reportedly plans to retire, but several several players said they were uncertain the 68-year-old would step away.

Harbaugh is expected to have his season-ending news conference later in the week. He’ll conduct meetings with players and coaches today and then players will clean out their lockers and many will head their separate ways for the offseason.

The retirement of the well-respected Pees, whose defense made the critical goal-line stand in the team’s victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XLVII and whose unit ranked in the top 10 in three of the previous four seasons, likely won’t be the only change on Harbaugh’s staff.

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