Dean Pees came out of retirement to help fix a moribund Falcons defense. Arthur Smith reached out to the former Patriots, Ravens, and Titans defensive coordinator when he was hired by Atlanta, hoping to coax someone he once worked with in Tennessee to his new home. Pees accepted, and by and large fans were thrilled by the prospect of one of the more successful defensive minds in the NFL over the past few decades joining and hopefully bringing a great defense for the Falcons back after a long, long hiatus.
Through two seasons, it obviously hasn’t worked out that way. Pees’ defense has been clamping down on scoring over the past several weeks, which has to warm his heart, but Atlanta’s defense has remained one of the weaker ones in the NFL. That has to frustrate a coach whose defenses have rarely been worse than league average over a long and distinguished career in the league, and who said back in April that it was time to start expecting greatness from this team.
Of course, the last two years have also been defined by the Falcons sadly turning out their pockets, shaking their heads, and letting moths loose from their wallets. With the second-highest cap space total in the NFL this coming spring, this team can finally invest significant free agent resources into upgrading the talent, which should allow this defense to be great. It’s just not 100% clear that Dean Pees will be here to coach it.
That’s because he cast at least some doubt on his future with the franchise in 2023 in a response to ESPN reporter Mike Rothstein:
Asked Falcons DC Dean Pees if he plans on returning in 2023:— Michael Rothstein (@mikerothstein) January 5, 2023
"We'll see after the season."
Pees said he'll talk with his wife before making that decision.
The fact that he’s at least considering another retirement is not really all that surprising. Pees is 73 years old and one of the oldest coaches working in the NFL today, he’s been through a pair of frustrating seasons, and he had a scare just a short time ago when a Saints player collided with him in pregame warmups and sent him to the hospital, though Pees was thankfully okay in the aftermath of that incident.
I never viewed Pees as a strong bet to hang around for more than a handful of seasons, with the hope that he’d coax real improvement out of this group or at least lay the foundation for it. If he’s thinking about life after football after more than 40 years of coaching, that’s understandable. He has already retired twice before.
I have no idea which way he’ll end up leaning, obviously, so we’ll just have to see what his decision is. If he does stay, Pees would have to be looking forward to this front office using the draft and free agency to lift the overall talent level of the defense, hopefully allowing it to make the major strides the coaching staff and all of us have been hoping for. History suggests that the makings of a capable pass rush in Atlanta will unlock the defense’s potential under Pees, if so.
If not, Atlanta will have a big decisions to make. If they want to keep it in-house, the most logical choice would be linebackers coach Frank Bush, who has a long NFL career and stints as both an assistant head coach and defensive coordinator in the league. Outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino also coordinated the Colts defense briefly, while defensive backs coach Jon Hoke and defensive line coach Gary Emanuel were defensive coordinators at the collegiate level. There are options, in other words, unless they’re looking outside the organization to poach an established coordinator or rising position coach.
That’s all in the future, though. We’ll see what this defense can do against the Buccaneers on Sunday and then wait to see if Pees remains at the helm of this defense in 2023 or turn the tiller over to someone else.