NASHVILLE — Former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees came out of retirement this week. According to the Falcons, the veteran coach will join Arthur Smith’s staff in Atlanta in the same role.
Irony, thy name is…Pees.
After 47 years in the profession, Pees retired in March 2020. Tennessee had just made an improbable AFC postseason run, but was bested 35-24. The Kansas City Chiefs ousted the Titans in the conference championship game. Pees, 71, had also previously retired in January 2018 to become the defensive coordinator on then new Tennessee head coach Mike Vrabel’s staff. That was supposed to be his last, last hurrah.
So, why the hell did the Titans do more to bring back Dean Pees?
Yes, the Titans stunk last year…
I am not certain Pees leaving is entirely to blame for how badly Tennessee’s defense flopped.
Jon Robinson’s efforts to pay for a pass rush are well documented. The resulting failures have been much discussed, too.
How much the COVID-19 pandemic affected the player evaluation process is up for debate but the Titans roster this last season had plenty of whiffs. Veterans that served as glue like Logan Ryan, Wesley Woodyard and Jurrell Casey (all logical decisions) were jettisoned. The global pandemic robbed young replacements of crucial offseason rep.This defense would have been tenuous under normal circumstances.
Pees’ reemergence is just bad optics.
No, Mike Vrabel does not get a pass, but…
Circumstance does not absolve Vrabel and his staff for just how badly things spiraled.
The fewest sacks in NFL history prior to this season for a playoff team was 19. Tennessee needed four sacks against a wretched Houston Texans team in Week 17 to merely tie that mark. Vrabel and play-caller Shan Bowen’s defense gave up the second most passing touchdowns in football last year (36) and allowed a historically worst conversion percentage on third downs (51.98%).
Vrabel remains under scrutiny after not naming a designated defensive coordinator last season. Pees’ posting up in the Titans backyard all year gives professional second-guessers, like myself, plenty of reasons to pick at that decision.
“This thing took a life of its own and I guess that was really important,” said Vrabel of not designating a defensive coordinator. “Shane (Bowen) led the meetings. Shane (Bowen) led the walkthroughs. Shane (Bowen) called the defense. We get caught up too much in titles. I guess I apologize, because clearly didn’t think it would take on a life of its own.”
Vrabel’s too skilled at avoiding media buzz words to think a title-less play caller would go unnoticed.
Is it Vrabel’s fault that Pees didn’t return to the Titans?
No, not directly.
Vrabel is a demanding boss but Pees’ comments about retiring last March were telling.
“It’s been 47 years,” Pees said after the 2019 season. “I told the team today that 721 games is a lot of games to coach. It’s time. I just feel like it’s a great time for us. I want to spend time with my wife. She’s been very supportive. It’s been a great ride.”
Competitors like new challenges.
At the time, Pees felt like he had satisfied that need. Football lifers always struggle to step away from the game, whether they be player or coach. Pees has been both. What joining Smith’s staff represents is a renewed vigor and daunting task. Atlanta has felt broken since the infamous 28-3 Super Bowl loss to the New England Patriots. Fixing it would be yet another feather in Pees’ coaching cap.
Titans fans might just have to except that Dean Pees has a type: Up-and-coming coaches in their mid-forties needing guidance in their first year on the job.
Featured Image: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports.