NASHVILLE – Less than an hour after safety Ed Reed had been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, he was asked about a man who played a big role in his NFL career – Titans defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
"Dean Pees is my guy," Reed, a nine-time Pro Bowler who was coached by Pees with the Ravens, said without hesitation. "Dean Pees is like a father to me, family -- no doubt about it. The conversations we had about defense, life, family.
"He means so much to me. That's my guy. Dean is my man."
Many Titans feel the same way.
Pees joined the Titans in 2018, and in January he announced he was returning for the 2019 season. Pees was Reed's defensive coordinator with the Ravens, and in three of his six seasons as DC in Baltimore the Ravens finished in the top 10 on defense. Pees helped guide the Ravens to a Super Bowl XLVII.
Speaking from Atlanta during Super Bowl LIII week, a number of Titans spoke about the significance of Pees returning to Tennessee.
"It is key," said Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who led the team in tackles in 2018. "When you are able to have the same system, and you can learn and build off of that, especially with a lot of the same players, you kind of expect to take off even more.
"The trust level with the defense, and with Dean, has continued to go up with the veterans and the younger guys, and that's important."
The Titans ranked 3rd in the NFL in scoring defense in 2018, and eighth overall in total defense.
"I love Dean," cornerback Logan Ryan said. "I could give a long, heartfelt message about him. I am so excited about him coming back, and super-excited to play in his defense for the second year in a row. It's the best defense in football. I think it's why Baltimore's always been really good."
Pees, who has 46 years of coaching experience, joined the Titans last offseason after coaching with the Ravens and Patriots. The Titans recorded their first shutout since 2000 in a 17-0 win over the New York Giants in December.
The Titans finished the year ranked sixth vs the pass, and 18th vs the run. In 2018, the Titans defensive backs posted the highest number of sacks in the "Titans era" (1999-present).
Pees replaced veteran defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator.
"Two legends," linebacker Jayon Brown said. "I feel fortunate. Dean, part of what makes him so good is he trusts his players to make plays. First off, he explains the concepts on why we run stuff, so we're not just out there running plays. So we know why we are doing it, and that helps players get a better understanding of the whole concept on what we're doing that week. And I think that helps us play faster, because we know why we're doing it and not just running plays that he's calling.
"I love his defense, and love what we did. We can improve on our numbers as an overall defense and get back to being a stingy defense."
Pees had a health concern during the 2018 season. He left the team's November 18 game vs the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium with a "medical issue," and he remained in an Indianapolis hospital one night for tests. Pees returned to Nashville the following day, however, and didn't miss a game the rest of the season.
But Pees said last month he feels good, and said the decision to return was based on his love of Nashville, his fellow coaches, the fans -- and his players.
Pees said having the faith of his players is important. He was asked how close the Titans are to having a championship defense.
"I think we are very close," Pees responded. "I don't know where we finished this year - I know we were in the top 10 in most of the categories and we felt good about that. ... There are so many things we can do a little better. (But) the guys believe in the system now. I had a lot of players come in at the end of the season and talk to me and really felt good about everything and that is the key thing. There are so many different systems, and they're all good.
"It has to be something you believe in as a coach, and more than that, the players have to believe in it, and I think our guys truly do. When you have those two ingredients, you always have a chance."
TitansOnline looks back at the NFL coaching career of Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees. (AP Photos)