Why Dean Pees’ post-practice speech on a defensive culture shift matters

Can we be real for a second? When people think of the Atlanta Falcons over the last 20 years, what do they think of? Chances are they don’t think of the Falcons defense.

Right? Can we agree on that?

They’ll think of Matt Ryan and Julio Jones. Michael Vick and Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez. Currently, Kyle Pitts and Drake London may come to mind. And I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say so.

But what about the defense? Honestly, not a whole lot, right? Because what do you think of when you think about Atlanta’s defense? Is the defensive reputation of the Falcons franchise of the last couple decades just a shrug and a, ‘Yeah, but we had Mike Vick, though.’

You don’t think a long-time defensive coordinator like Dean Pees knows what the reputation of the unit he took over in Atlanta is? He does.

The last thing I want to do as a writer is get in the way of my subject’s message. That’s not what I’m going to do here. So, here’s what Pees said. Unfiltered, and unedited.

Read it. It’s important because of its implications:

“We’ve talked about it before. We talked about it a little bit last spring. We’re changing the culture around this daggum place and it’s not going to be mediocre. It’s not going to be average. It’s not going to be in the bottom half of the league like it’s been 15 out of the last 20 years. Sick of that crap. We’ve got to take charge and it’s not going to be anybody else to do it but us. OK? I’m tired of everybody telling us how bad we are because after a while you start believing it. Just like they say you never tell your children stuff like (that). You get mad at a teacher telling some kid he’s stupid, right? Don’t ever tell somebody that because pretty soon they start believing it. Guys around here on defense sometimes believe that 15th is OK or whatever. Been in the Top 10 one time out of the last 20 years. That bullshit’s over. Sorry, I’m getting fired up today but I’m getting tired of this crap. We’re going to change the culture of the defense around this freaking place.”

“People are going to start talking about the Atlanta defense like they did Baltimore, like they did at New England. It’s going to be the same shit around here. Excuse me. I’m sorry for swearing.”

If you want your players to be impassioned – to play with passion and swagger and all the things that make a defense great – doesn’t that passion have to start somewhere? Perhaps it begins with a coach who’s not silent or willing to sit in mediocrity? Sure it does.

Pees is stating here and now – four days into the 2022 training camp and at the onset of a rather lengthy and large organizational transition – that he’s done with average.

The defensive coordinator spoke on this topic at length, and I highly encourage you to listen to his press conference in full. It was an honest conversation that really got me thinking about other conversations I’ve had with Pees in the past. If you listened to the Pees in a Pod podcast that ran prior to training camp, you heard Pees discuss his nearly 50-year coaching career. Something that sticks out to me with greater emphasis now in light of his most recent speed is this:

Pees has said that, of course, the Super Bowls he won with Baltimore and New England were great. A fantastic highlight of his career. Something he will always – always – remember. But was it the most meaningful? The most gratifying? Surprisingly, no.

Pees has said on a couple of occasions that the most meaningful moments of his career involve a cultural shift. There’s meaning in taking a high school football team in Ohio and turning them into a contender after only every winning a couple games a year. There’s meaning in taking a Kent State team that hadn’t had a winning season in a decade and developing them into a program that finally got over .500. These are the things Pees finds meaning in.

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