The 2021 offseason for the Atlanta Falcons will be one remembered for the hiring of new head coach Arthur Smith -- and for good reason. What the former offensive coordinator accomplished with the Tennessee Titans helped take the franchise to another level. He turned quarterback Ryan Tannehill into the AP Comeback Player of the Year last season, and then of course helped running back Derrick Henry assert his dominance over the league as the back-to-back rushing champion. There is another under-the-radar hire that should help the Falcons immediately, however, and that's defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Pees came out of retirement for the second time in his career to join the Falcons. He spent 2018 and 2019 as the defensive coordinator of the Titans, and like Smith, he helped the franchise improve and was a part of their incredible run to the AFC Championship last year. So, why did the 71-year-old decide to return to football? Pees says Smith played a large role in that decision.
"I came out of retirement because I really missed it. And I think the world of Arthur Smith. I loved working with him," Pees said, via Jason Butt of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
"I had the itch but I wasn't going to go out and search for a job. I came here because of the Atlanta Falcons and Arthur Smith."
Pees spent 25 years as a coach at the collegiate level, but broke into the NFL back in 2004 with the New England Patriots, where he worked as their linebackers coach until 2006, when he was promoted to defensive coordinator. In 2010, Pees made the decision to leave New England for the Baltimore Ravens, where he served as the linebackers coach for two seasons, and then the defensive coordinator for six more seasons. He had a hand in the Patriots' Super Bowl XXXIX victory as well as the Ravens' Super Bowl XLVII victory. Pees announced his retirement a first time following the 2017 season, but then decided to take the Titans' defensive coordinator job after his former player Mike Vrabel reached out to him.
After Pees left and Vrabel took over as the de facto defensive coordinator, Tennessee's defense took a noticeable dip in 2020. The Titans ranked fifth-worst in the league when it came to total yards allowed per game this season, and fourth-worst in passing yards allowed per game -- which was a clear regression from 2019. Tennessee also had the worst third-down defense in the league.
The Falcons had the fourth-worst defense in the league last year, as they allowed an average of 398.4 yards of total offense per game. Smith was brought in to tend to the offensive side of the ball, but having a veteran like Pees on staff should help this defense and team as a whole improve right away.