Dean Pees plays the keys just right

Tickling the ivories and seeing the big picture inspire new defensive coordinator

  • Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees keeps an eye on the Ravens during last week's practice.
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees keeps an eye on the Ravens… (Kim Hairston, Baltimore…)
September 08, 2012|By Mike Klingaman, The Baltimore Sun

It's 11 p.m. when Dean Pees arrives at his Reisterstown home, after 16 hours of hatching game plans as the Ravens' new defensive coordinator.

Tired? You bet. Sleep? Not yet.

Pees, 63, heads for the study, sits at the digital piano, dims the lights and tickles the ivories. The music — mostly self-penned, easy-listening stuff — could calm a manic Ray Lewis.

Not Pees. Each note fires his football imagination.

"Oftentimes, this is when he does his best thinking and scheming of defenses," said Melody Pees, his wife. "Playing the piano really clears Dean's head because he doesn't have to think about the music. It just comes naturally since he plays from his heart."

And football is ensconced in his soul. Forty years of toting clipboards, mulling over game films and scrawling plays, from high school to the pros, haven't lessened his passion for the game. Pees was born to coach, those who know him say.

"His eyes dance when he's explaining techniques to players, or devising personnel charts," said Laing Kennedy, athletic director at Kent State, where Pees coached a decade ago.

"He loves daily practice, he listens to players and he always goes full-throttle."

That's music to the ears of Ravens fans.

Even now, after eight years in the NFL — six seasons with New England where, as an assistant coach, he helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl in 2005, and two years with the Ravens as linebackers coach — Pees maintains an old-fashioned mindset in dealing with his charges.

"I consider myself a schoolteacher first. That's all I wanted to become, a high school teacher and coach," Pees said. "Everyone is motivated differently to learn. Some guys need a foot once in a while, and others don't. My job is to find that out quickly and get it done.

"It doesn't take long to figure people out."

Pees' savvy is unparalleled, Ravens players say.

"I love him," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "We call him 'Coach K' for 'Coach Knowledge.' I'm, just, all ears open. Anytime he speaks, I listen. He's not speaking for no reason."

All-Pro safety Ed Reed said Pees "definitely keeps [football] likable and learnable. He has no problem with stopping you and saying, 'Can I talk to you for a second?' You know, give you some pointers.

"He's a guy that guys want to come work for."

No matter the player's star power.

"Coach Pees is just a great intellectual coach," Lewis, the All-Pro linebacker, said. "He wants you to understand not just what the defense is doing, but actually how you are being attacked, and things like that."

The big picture? Pees sees all, said Bob Davie, former Notre Dame head coach who worked alongside him in South Bend under Lou Holtz in 1994.

"He has a total grasp of the game," said Davie, now head coach at New Mexico. "You always want one guy on the staff whom you can bounce ideas off of, schematically, and Dean is that guy.

"In the coaching fraternity, we all have those whom we really trust, and he's one. Age doesn't matter, or if you played football in college [Pees didn't]. There are no pretenders with resumes like his. You don't bluff your way through coaching for Nick Saban [Alabama], Bill Belichick [New England] or Holtz."

Pees left his mark on Navy, too, serving as secondary coach for the Midshipmen from 1987 through 1989. Even then, "Dean was very deliberate in his preparations and devised plans that were instrumental in our beating Army's wishbone in '89," said Elliot Uzelac, then Navy's head coach.

"I've kept an eye on him since. He understands how to handle different people at different stages in their careers. Great coaches have the flexibility to adapt to both the times and their players. Dean has done that all of his life."

Smooth talker

By all accounts, Pees has always had the knack of making others do his bidding.

"Growing up, he'd offer his younger sisters money to wash his car — and then not pay them," said Lois Pees, 93, his mother.

"He was always asking us to clean his room, or to press his clothes before a date," said Karen Kehler, one of Pees' seven siblings. "Dean would say, 'Wouldn't you like a chocolate malt from the Dairy Queen?'

"You knew he wouldn't pay up, but the way he asked just made you want to do it."

Wendy Morin said her brother owes her "hundreds of thousands of dollars" for having done his chores.

"He'd compliment you, like, 'You're the best person I know at sewing on a button. I'll give you a quarter.' I wouldn't call it schmoozing. He could talk you into stuff, and you'd agree because you wanted to be as likable as Dean was."

Only once, as a kid, did she know Pees to fail, Morin said: He couldn't move a stubborn steer from the barn of the family farm in rural Ohio.

"Not only wouldn't that steer budge, it got its head under Dean and tossed him up," she said. "He hit his head on a beam in the barn and blood went everywhere.

"Not everyone listens to Dean. That steer didn't."

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