Local Sports

Friday, April 26, 2013

Pro Football: Hardin County roots helped Pees succeed
By JAMIE BAKER

Staff Writer

BLOOMDALE -- Hardin Northern graduate Dean Pees has coached in three Super Bowls, but he has never drifted far from his small town roots.

So when Elmwood athletic director Michele Story asked Pees to return to the school for a fund-raiser for the school's football stadium, where he got his coaching start, there was no hesitation.

Elmwood is where Pees, the defensive coordinator of the Super Bowl Champion Baltimore Ravens, began his career. The school and the communities it serves will always hold a special place in Pees' heart.

"Getting a break and getting a start, that's what everyone needs when they are first starting out. I was just out of college without a job. Getting the job at Elmwood was the start of everything," Pees said.

"The biggest thing here being a head coach, it was a lot of fun trying to build a program and get things going. And when we started winning, it was even more fun. It was very, very rewarding to see those guys turn the corner and start winning.

"It was just a great group of people out here. I didn't grow up all that far from here, either, so it was a lot like Hardin County down south. Just good people, good communities; Bloomdale, Wayne, Jerry City, Cygnet, all of them. It was a great start for me."

It's those Hardin County roots and his early days as coach at places like Elmwood and Findlay College that helped give Pees the experience to move onward and upward through the college and professional coaching ranks.

One of eight children, Pees grew up on a farm where the family raised its own cattle. His dad, Wayne, owned and worked in a stone quarry.

"I came from an unbelievable family. Had an incredible upbringing in Hardin County. Kind of an unusual situation in that county down there came from a family of eight kids; all of us went to college, all of us learned how to play the piano," Pees said.

"I learned a great work ethic from my father, a great work ethic. He put eight kids through college, none of us got a scholarship anywhere. To do all that back then was simply incredible."

Unfortunately, Wayne Pees never got to see his son climb the football coaching ladder. Pees' father died at age 57 just after he had just started as Elmwood's head football,

"That was tough because I knew it made him proud that I was a football coach. Especially when I became a head coach," Pees said.

"He was president of our athletic boosters at school. He didn't get to watch me play as much as he would have liked because he was always in the concession stand. He's one of those guys who wouldn't ask anyone else to do that because he felt that was his responsibility. That's the way I look at things, too. I wouldn't ask anyone to do anything that I wouldn't do myself and most times I still do it myself."

His mother, Lois, died at the age of 94 earlier this month. The people skills needed to be a football coach at any level is one of the things Pees learned from his mother.

"We just lost my mom last week. She was an incredible, incredible lady. What I really learned from her was how to treat people," Pees said.

"Remember where you are from and how you got there. I feel that's helped me in my career. There's never been a job I didn't like."

It was also at Hardin Northern as a member of the junior high football team where Pees really got the first inkling that he'd like to be the man running the show on the sidelines.

"I can tell you exactly when I decided I wanted to be a coach. It was in eighth grade. I was the quarterback and we were playing a team that was beating the snot out of us," Pees said.

"Without the coach's permission, I actually changed a couple of things in the huddle and it worked. We ended up beating the team and our coach wasn't mad at me at all. I think at that moment I said to myself, I like this kind of stuff, this is fun."

After just a few years as head coach at Elmwood, Findlay College coach Dick Strahm reached out to Pees to bring him on board as the Oilers' defensive coordinator in 1979. It turned out to be a good move as Pees led a tough Findlay College defense that year as the Oilers ended up winning an NAIA national championship.

That championship season was just the first of 24 years Pees coached at the college level. He had stops at Miami University, Toledo, Michigan State, the United States Naval Academy and Notre Dame before Pees earned the head coaching job at Kent State in 1998.

Despite coaching in two Super Bowls for the Patriots and one for the Ravens, when asked about his most memorable coaching experience, there was a long pause as Pees confessed it came as Kent State's head coach.

"It was the last play in 2002 season Kent State versus Miami of Ohio and Ben Roethlisberger is the quarterback. Kent State hadn't beaten Miami in who knows how long, and hadn't had a winning season in 20 years," Pees said.

"We are 5-5 and playing Miami of Ohio at home. It's fourth down, ball is on the 20 yard line with 20 seconds to go. I switched James Harrison from one side of the defense to the other side of the defense and he sacked Ben Roethlisberger on the last play to give us our first winning record in 20 years.

"It all came down to that play to give us a 6-5 record. They had a Kent State Football Day after that at 6-5. Most coaches get fired after 6-5; I got a new contract and a Kent State Football Day."

Pees spent six seasons at Kent State, posting a 17-51 record. He was let go by the school after a 5-7 mark in 2003. But as it has been through his entire career, Pees wasn't unemployed long. He signed on to be Bill Belichick's linebacker coach at New England after leaving Kent and was elevated to defensive coordinator in New England in 2006.

He joined one of his former players, John Harbaugh, in Baltimore as linebacker coach in 2010 and was named the defensive coordinator in 2012.

Coaching football has allowed the Pees family -- Dean, his wife Melody, a 1972 Elmwood graduate, and their six children the opportunity to meet people and do things that most people can only dream of.

But the grind of a 95-100 hour work weeks for 24 straight weeks has also been tough at times.

"My wife says all the time, 'Can you believe we're here doing this?' It boggles my mind when people sometimes ask for my autograph, I just say why?," Pees said.

"It's very tough sometimes. There are good and bad like there are in all professions. The bad in this profession is that you miss a lot of things that your kids are involved in, especially if your kids are involved in fall sports.

"The good part of that is they've all been to three Super Bowls, they've all been to eight bowl games, they have gotten to know Ray Lewis and Tedy Brusche and Willie McGinest, all those guys. Our family has gotten to be in a fun and exciting atmosphere. The down side is sometimes they sacrifice me not being there for some of their activities."

Whether he was coaching high school players at Elmwood, defensive players at Michigan State or Ed Reed and Ray Lewis in Baltimore, some things about the job of coaching have always remained the same for Pees who will be entering his 41st season coaching football this fall.

"I think the passion for the job and passion to be happy doing what you're doing. I've been lucky I've been in a career for 41 years now where I enjoy going to work every day. I enjoyed going to work here just like I did going to work in New England and Baltimore and all the jobs I've had," Pees said.

"I think when you like what you do it shows and I think you probably do your job with a little more spark, a little more enthusiasm with a smile on your face."

Baker, 419-427-8409

jamiebaker@thecourier.com


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