Dean Pees believes in paying his dues, as he did.
The former Tennessee Titans defensive coordinator also is convinced that too many younger coaches in the NFL these days are just interested in getting paid.
Last week, ahead of the final game of his first season as defensive coordinator with the Atlanta Falcons, Pees expanded his answer to a question about young players’ motivation during his regular weekly media session Thursday. The 72-year-old railed against what he considers a sense of entitlement and a lack of awareness of the core aspects of the job that he sees from newcomers in his profession.
“I think the younger generation of coaches feel a little entitled,” Pees said. “I think they’re spoiled. Go work in a high school. Go work at a Division III school – where you have to mow the grass, you have to line the field, you have to do all of those things – and you will appreciate what you have when you have it instead of being 25 years old and wondering why (you’re) not a coordinator already in the NFL.
“OK, I went to the NFL at 55 years old. I was a high school coach. I was a Division III coach. I was in the (Mid-American Conference) as a coach. I didn’t go to New England until I was 55 years old. So, I felt like I paid my dues. And I feel like it made me a better coach, a better teacher. I was a schoolteacher. I learned how to teach. I look at guys now, and they can’t stand up in front of a room and talk to people.”
To be clear: Pees did not single out anyone or give any indication of when or where he experienced any of that attitude.
Still, it is interesting to consider his comments in relation to his time with Tennessee. Pees retired following the 2019 season, his second under coach Mike Vrabel, but returned to work a year later with the Falcons and head coach Arthur Smith.
Following his departure, outside linebackers coach Shane Bowen served as the Titans’ de facto coordinator for one season (2020) before he officially got the job this year. Bowen, 35, got to the NFL in 2016 as a defensive assistant with the Houston Texans after three years as a college position coach. He spent two seasons as a defensive assistant and three as a position coach before he became a coordinator.
Bowen proved his worth this season. His unit finished second in the NFL in rushing yards allowed, tied for fifth in points allowed and more than doubled its sack total from 2020 with 43, the same number as Pees’ last season in charge.
Part of Pees’ concern with the younger generation is what he sees as the ever-increasing impact of analytics on decision-making and the spillover effect that has on other aspects of the job.
“Everything’s on the computer,” Pees said. “It’s still a people’s game. Players want to talk to you. They want to hear from you. … Everybody gets on a computer for two years and thinks they ought to be a coach. It’s not Madden football. It has to deal with people.
“… Players want to be coached. They do. They do. All of them want to be coached. They want to be good. They want to be coached. They want to be told what to do and how to do it – and correctly – and [for coaches to] talk to them and be honest with them.
“I just don’t feel – in this generation, sometimes – that the coaches have very good personal relationships with players. I love my players. I’ve always loved my players. Everybody asks me, ‘Who’s your favorite player?’ I go, ‘All of them.’ Anybody that’s played for me is my favorite player.”