NASHVILLE — After 47 years at all levels of coaching, Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees retired at Saint Thomas Sports Park.

If Derrick Henry is the team’s most irreplaceable player, Pees was its most prolific coach.

“On behalf of the organization, coaching staff, me, I just want to thank Dean (Pees) for his countless hours in the office, and the preparation,” coach Mike Vrabel said. “I think when you hear him talk, I think you see where I get a lot of things. The players love him. You know, I’ve talked him out of retirement once. I didn’t have the heart to do it a second time. We’re lucky that he was here, and that he chose to come here and be with us. I’m really thankful.”

Pees’ second retirement came on the heels of Tennessee’s 35-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday’s AFC Championship game.

Vrabel, shortly after accepting the head coaching job in January of 2018, called Pees to join him in Nashville. At the time, the longtime defensive coordinator had just left the Baltimore Ravens to spend more time with family. The conversations were enough to get Pees off the pine and onto the Titans’ sideline for two seasons.

Pees’ influence as a teacher permeates almost everything Vrabel does as a coach. Lessons learned about loyalty and a sense of family show through in the players who stand by them.

“I’ll be honest, the honest truth is I wanted to be a high school football coach because that was the guys, along with my father, that I admired the most,” Pees said. “My dad never got to see me coach. He died the first year I became a head high school coach. He passed away at 56 years old of a heart attack, never saw me coach. So, I’ve coached a lot of years for him.”

For that reason, it was important for Pees to be around family this time around.

Part of what brought Pees back was Vrabel hiring his son, Matt Pees, as a defensive quality-control coach. Matt coached high school football in Colorado high and could not join him in Baltimore because of a rule preventing nepotism within the organization.

“Incredible,” said Pees of working alongside his son. “And I will be indebted to Mike (Vrabel), and Amy (Adams Strunk), and Jon (Robinson), and all the people that made that happen. Because it didn’t happen at all the other places. I’ve been wanting that for a long time. I retired thinking that was never going to happen, and Mike made it happen. For Amy to allow it to happen, I am truly, truly indebted and grateful. To spend two years with my son here, and watch him grow, there aren’t enough words. You guys all know if you have kids, it’s just like a dream come true to be in the same profession. It was incredible. It was incredible.”

Nepotism rules are in place for obvious reasons in professional sports. Those reasons ring even louder in the ears of qualified candidates who are trying to break in and fail every hiring cycle. Vrabel allowing his former coach to bring in family, though, helped entrench Tennessee in their self-belief this season.

Pees’ players cite his care of them at every turn.

“I think that’s the difference in coaching is there’s guys out there sometimes that are like, ‘What can I do to advance? What can I do to get ahead?’ Hey, you know what you can do? You can do a great job of where you are, and love where you are, and love the people that you’re with, and that’ll show, and somebody will call you rather than trying to worry about how fast can I advance somewhere. It isn’t about that. It’s about doing a great job and being loyal to the people that you work for. I can truly say I’ve loved every job I’ve had. I mean, some have been tougher than others, but I’ve loved it. I love the competitiveness about trying to take a high school program, or even a college program that hasn’t won and turn it into a winner. That’s been just as satisfying as all the other ones, and just as satisfying listening to somebody call you years later who’s not in the NFL, but they’re having a great career.

I think the fact that you have those relationships, and that you truly care, and people know you care, I think that’s why people play hard. That’s why I work hard for him (Mike Vrabel), the respect I have for him and the other coaches that I’ve worked for. I remember what he was like as a player.”

Vrabel stresses family, teaching and respect at every turn. Few in NFL history better embody those qualities than Pees.

Featured Image: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.

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