It was there, at the rustic crossroads of Blanchard Station (pop. 20), that Pees forged the will and the work ethic that would take him to the NFL. His family owned and operated a stone quarry that stood beside the farm, and Wayne Pees toiled hard to feed his family of 10.
"My dad was a tough guy, and I admired the sacrifices he made," Pees said. "He taught me how to deal with people. Instead of telling somebody to do something, he'd say, 'If you want to, you can get that conveyor belt going.' It's like he was asking, instead of a direct order."
With a bevy of brothers and sisters, Pees learned, early on, to speak his mind or get lost in the crowd.
"When he was 4 or 5, Dean would come running out of the house when visitors arrived. He'd put his hands on his hips and say, 'Hey, you know what?' — and some story would ensue," said Marilyn Sands, a cousin.
"He's an excellent communicator. He started out as a speech major in college [Bowling Green]. A lot of guys, when you talk to them, just go 'uh-huh.' But Dean actually listens."
Ron Pees recalled a phone conversation he overheard 20 years ago between his brother, then Toledo's defensive coordinator, and a would-be recruit.
"The kid had several Big Ten schools chasing him, but by the time Dean finished [his pitch], I'm thinking, Holy cow, why go anywhere but Toledo?
"It's not that Dean was selling him a load of bull. He was just totally behind what he was doing, and believed in it."
His coaching acumen showed early. The farm was a magnet for Pees' pals; the barnyard, their ball field.
Once, Kehler said, when she and her sister begged to play football with the guys, Pees agreed to put them on his team — on one condition.
"Nobody can touch the girls," he said.
"Dean just gave us the ball and told us to run," Kehler said. The rout was on.
Music and work
No matter the sport, Pees embraced it, whole hog.
"He put a lot of effort into everything," said Steve Wykes, a childhood friend. "In school, he ran the 880 in track, and we knew that when he finished the race, he'd keep running all the way under the bleachers to throw up because he'd given it all he had."
At Hardin Northern High, Pees — all 155 pounds of him — played quarterback, tight end and defensive back for the Polar Bears, who seldom won.
"He thought about every play beforehand," teammate Terry Price said. "Dean wouldn't just line up and block somebody. He knew exactly what he had to do to beat the guy across from him. He wasn't always successful, but he sure increased the odds."
That mindset, handed down from his father, has carried Pees to the top, Price said.
"His philosophy is, if you're going to do something, do it right — don't go into it blindly and think you're going to win."
Sometimes, before the snap, Pees whispered tips to teammates.
"He'd say, 'Do it this way,' and I'd say, 'I'll do it my way,'" said Neil Hipsher, who played beside him. "Then, after I'd messed up, he'd say, 'You shouldn't have done it that way' — but he was very nice about it."
Ask what he learned from high school and Pees will tell you: How not to coach football.
"People ask, 'Who've been the biggest influences on your career?' It's not always a Saban or a Belichick," he said. "I had high school coaches that I didn't want to be like, so I've always done the opposite."
An ankle injury his senior year — a ligament tore away from the bone — crushed his college chances. At Bowling Green, to help pay tuition, he played piano at the local Holiday Inn.
Pees has performed at the weddings of family members, as well as that of New England lineman Logan Mankins. He has performed at charity functions and nursing homes, sometimes delighting audiences by playing the piano upside down, with his hands crossed, a la Jerry Lee Lewis.
He has cut two CDs, for family members, and has written songs for each of his children and grandchildren to celebrate their births.
"Music is cathartic," he said. "It helps in my work. It can be very therapeutic."
But for Pees, music ranks behind football, and football follows family. He might have landed an NFL job sooner, if not for his kids' education.
"At one time, three of them were in college at Kent State, where I was head coach," he said. "The tuition waiver there was a nice perk. Plus, I was happy there."
At Kent, he took a moribund program (13 straight losing seasons) and made it a winner, albeit a 6-5 finish in his fourth year in 2001.
"You'd have thought we'd won the Super Bowl," Pees said. "The town had 'Kent State Football Day' and gave me a plaque, which means an awful lot to me. Yeah, I had my part in winning it all at New England, but I didn't bring that team from nothing to something."
He left Kent with a dismal record (17-51) but with reputation intact.