After starting his coaching career at Elmwood High School in Ohio in 1973 and working his way up to the collegiate level until finally becoming head coach at Kent State in 1998, Dean Pees made the jump to the NFL in 2004 when Bill Belichick came calling: Belichick, whose father Steve worked alongside Pees at Navy in the late 1980s, wanted the then-54-year-old to leave his position with the Golden Flashes to join his staff in New England.
Pees agreed and joined the Patriots as their new linebackers coach, taking over a position previously jointly held by Rob Ryan and Pepper Johnson. His unit — led by players such as Tedy Bruschi, Mike Vrabel and Willie McGinest — played a key role in helping New England win its third Super Bowl win in four years to cap the 2004 campaign, earning the veteran coach a championship ring in just his first season at the professional level.
Pees had coached the Patriots’ linebackers for two years, when he made another step up the ladder: with Eric Mangini leaving the organization after just one season as its defensive coordinator, Belichick turned to Pees to fill the void. The decision to promote him turned out to be a good one as New England’s defense promptly delivered an impressive season while surrendering a then-franchise best 14.8 points per game.
The following year, Pees coordinated the Patriots’ 16-0 campaign while also coaching stout units in 2008 and 2009. As a result, New England became the only team in the league to finish in the top 10 in scoring defense in each of his four seasons as the team’s defensive play caller. The defense also allowed fewer than 20 points per game each year between 2006 and 2010 — the best run of any coordinator in Belichick’s tenure as head coach.
Following a disappointing playoff exit in 2009, however, Pees did not return to the Patriots. Instead, he went on to become linebackers coach and later defensive coordinator in Baltimore before joining the Tennessee Titans under his former pupil Mike Vrabel in 2018. Pees held the position for two seasons before announcing his retirement from coaching on Monday after 46 seasons — including six in New England — and two Super Bowl wins.