It was nearly three decades ago when Dean Pees was the defensive coordinator at Miami (Ohio), where he coached a young, determined defensive back named John Harbaugh.
Flash forward to today and Pees has been charged with running the Baltimore Ravens' heralded defense after being promoted from linebackers coach by Harbaugh on Friday.
"If he can make me any kind of a player, that tells you what a great coach he really is," Harbaugh said with a laugh. "I always respected his work, always respected the kind of person he is. The tradition of this defense, it will flourish and it will get even better. It will be in coach Pees' hands."
A former New England Patriots defensive coordinator under coach Bill Belichick, Pees is known for his meticulous film study and ability to identify opponents' tendencies and tells.
Pees, 62, steps into a formidable position considering the Ravens' rich tradition of defense and whom he's following.
Pees succeeds Chuck Pagano, the new Indianapolis Colts head coach who revitalized the Ravens' dormant pass rush with 48 sacks last season as Baltimore finished third in total defense.
Now, the cerebral veteran coach takes over a defense headlined by two future Hall of Famers in middle linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed as well as Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
Pees becomes the sixth defensive coordinator in franchise history, following Pagano, Greg Mattison, Rex Ryan, Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis. All of those men except for Mattison went on to become NFL head coaches with two former defensive assistants, Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith, also ascending to that level.
Pees has his own distinct personality, different from the fiery Pagano, the outspoken, swaggering Ryan, the blunt nature of Nolan and the strong charisma of Lewis.
Pees is known for his intellect and for getting his players to buy into what he's doing.
"They've got their own style and their own personality, and it is what it is, and I'm not going to change it," said Pees, who plans to coach from the sidelines. "I have my own personality. I'm not going to be the same as Chuck Pagano or Greg Mattison or anybody before.
"I will be who I am, but I don't in any way want to change that room whatsoever or the dynamics of that room. I'm looking forward to it, I'm excited about it, and I'm very humbled by being a Raven. I very much look forward to it."
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson is a veteran unrestricted free agent, but decided to attend the press briefing to show his support for Pees.
"When Dean speaks, everybody listens because you know you're about to learn something," Johnson said. "He commands a lot of respect just from his voice and the way he handles the room. You can tell when he talks, he's had a lot of football experience in a lot of leadership positions, whether it is head coach or coordinator."
Added inside linebacker Jameel McClain: "He is a great coach. He really fits the player's personality so well. He is a proven winner in this league. I have been around many coaches in my football career, and Dean Pees is as sharp and aware as they come. We are lucky to have him as our coordinator, and I expect great things from our defense."
Besides elevating Pees, the Ravens retained offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and said that assistant head coach and special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg will also be back.
The Ravens didn't take long to give Pees the job, choosing him over defensive line coach Clarence Brooks. Although Brooks has been mentioned as a candidate to join the Colts' staff, he attended Pees' introductory press conference.
Harbaugh was sold on Pees and didn't hesitate to grant him a coveted post. And he said he only considered internal candidates.
"I think if you get a chance to talk to any of our players, they'll tell you what a great football coach this man is and what a good person he is, too," Harbaugh said. "We go back a long way. All the way through the ranks, he's been one of the top coaches around and the record speaks for itself.
"I didn't look around the league at all. I looked no further than this staff and wouldn't stop with coach Pees. Any one of the guys on our defensive staff is capable of coordinating in this league. Right now it's the perfect fit."
"I think it's part of the reason why we've been good for so long," Johnson said. "In the last 10 to 12 years, we've never had a guy from the outside come in who is going to bring in all his own coaches, who is going to bring in all his own players and revamp.
"Guys have come in from other places, but they've been on the staff for a good amount of time, and they learn what we do here and how we do it. When they get their opportunities, they have their tweaks and their improvements but they don't totally change what we've done here."
Working for the Patriots, Pees coached the linebackers for two seasons and was defensive coordinator for four years.
It was a successful run where the Patriots were the lone team in the league to rank in the top 10 in scoring defense annually as they allowed fewer than 20 points annually during his tenure.
A former head coach at Kent State, Pees left New England following a 33-14 loss to the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game where running back Ray Rice rushed for 159 yards.
Pees has consistently denied that he was fired or that he left because of a medical condition that flared up when he had a bad reaction to asthma medicine.
"I decided not to go back there," Pees said. "My contract was up. I didn't renew my contract. I was not fired, and I decided to explore other avenues. And this was a great avenue to explore."
Pees said he learned valuable lessons while working in New England while coaching the likes of linebacker Tedy Bruschi, safety Rodney Harrison and nose guard Vince Wilfork.
When asked what he had gleaned, Pees replied: "Win. We won there and we're winning here. It's not just New England. It's everybody. It's a culmination of a lot of years, being with a lot of people, seeing a lot of different things. I've been in a lot of different schemes and there's no one scheme that is great. If that was the case, everybody would be playing that scheme. It's what fits your personality. It's what fits your personnel most of all."
Pees is looking to make his own imprint on the Ravens' defense.
While that likely entails tinkering with a successful unit that ranked second in rushing defense, allowing 92.6 yards per game, fourth in passing defense, giving up 196.3 yards per game, first in red-zone defense and third in scoring defense (16.6 points per game), an overhaul isn't in the offing.
"You have to put your own stamp on it, that's a challenge," Harbaugh said. "For the last four years here, they've all done it incredibly well. We've been third, third, third in scoring defense. Our goal is to be first. That's the next step for us. We want to be the best in the league at everything we do and to me, Dean Pees, along with the rest of our coaching staff, that's the emphasis here.
"You're going to see a fiery Dean Pees and you're going to see an aggressive defense, just like you've seen in the past. We'll be getting after people. That's the plan. That's not going to change. We're going to build on that."
In the AFC title game, the Ravens intercepted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady twice and held him to zero touchdowns.
The Ravens will need to hire a linebackers coach to replace Pees. They'll also likely be replacing some assistant coaches.
Going forward, the players can count on a lot of tips and knowledge from Pees.
If this was the old days of football, he would burn up film projectors watching as much game footage as he does.
"I've got a lot of experience as far as watching a lot of film and watching other teams," Pees said. "You're always trying to make yourself better studying other teams. I think when you study film as much as we all do, pretty soon you start seeing tendencies. I think then it's a matter of the information that you want to be able to give players needs to be pertinent to what they're doing.
"Just to spew out a bunch of stats to them or give them a bunch of things that don't hold true all the time, really, players don't want to hear that. ‘What can I lock in on? Give me a couple things I can lock in on, and that's going to help me. If you're going to give me 100 things, I can't remember all those things.'"
Ravens retain Cam Cameron
OWINGS MILLS – Cam Cameron never left the Baltimore Ravens' building except for a quick scouting trip at the Senior Bowl.
In a move that wasn't regarded as an upset victory for Cameron within the Ravens' training complex, the oft-criticized offensive coordinator was retained by coach John Harbaugh.
Cameron now in the process of finalizing a new contract since his four-year contract is expiring.
"An announcement is not necessary," Harbaugh said. "Cam has been our offensive coordinator and will continue to be our offensive coordinator. I wasn't surprised. It was a foregone conclusion to me."
Cameron kept his job despite enduring a stinging amount of criticism throughout the season.
And the doubt about his status ended this week, though, when the Ravens decided to offer Cameron a new contract following a 23-20 AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots where quarterback Joe Flacco tossed two touchdown passes to outduel Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Upon receiving the good news from Harbaugh, Cameron phoned Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
"I'm obviously thrilled," Cameron said. "I called Ozzie and said, ‘Hey, I'm just thrilled to be back.' And Ozzie said, ‘Cam, in our minds, you were never gone.' And that means the world. Obviously, we've got a lot of unfinished business. Our focus will be the same: getting better. We've got some areas we need to improve in."
Cameron said the length of the deal is still being determined.
It's expected to be a lucrative contract financially.
The relationship between Flacco and Cameron has drawn intense scrutiny, especially in previous seasons.
However, they worked more closely together after the firing of quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn and seemed to have a lot less friction. Flacco spoke to team officials about Cameron after the season and didn't express opposition to his return.
"We have a great relationship," Cameron said. "Joe has grown so much and in so many ways, not only as a player but as a man. There's greatness in him. He's right on track to where a lot of the great ones have been. That's encouraging for us."
However, Cameron's return is expected to include an addition: a quarterbacks coach to help Flacco, who passed for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.
Head Coach John Harbaugh left the door open to adding a quarterbacks coach for next season.
Cameron handled those duties last season, working in tandem with offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg.
"I think we'll see where all that goes down the road. I mean it's a possibility," Harbaugh said. "The way that it worked out last year on offense, to me, was tremendously successful. It was the right move at the right time.
"I think the quarterback and the offensive coordinator need to really be of one mind; both relationally and football-wise. Those guys being in the room together to me was a smashing success. I think that really helped Joe grow this offense, and it was a direct communication every single day, all day long with the offensive coordinator, the play caller and the guy who was building the offensive system."
The Ravens made minor improvements offensively, at least statistically, after cutting tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, signing left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, fullback Vonta Leach and drafting rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith in the second round and trading for wide receiver Lee Evans.
Most of the moves worked out except for Evans, who caught only four passes after being acquired via a trade from the Buffalo Bills.
The Ravens climbed to 15th in total offense, averaging 338.7 yards per game, one year after ranking 22nd overall and averaging 322.9 yards.
They ranked 10th in rushing offense, gaining 124.8 yards per game as Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns. They were 14th in 2010, averaging 114.4 yards.
And they improved to 19th in passing, one spot better than they did in 2010 as the Ravens averaged 213.9 yards in the air in 2011 and 208.4 passing yards in 2010.
They ranked 12th in scoring defense, averaging 23.6 points per game, after finishing 16th in scoring offense in 2010 when they averaged 22.3 points.
"We turned a lot of things over on offense," Harbaugh said. "We had young receivers out there, we had new tights out there and the left side of our offensive line was new for most of the season.
"I thought our players and coaches did a great job. They fought like crazy, got the job done and won 13 games. That's the bottom line."
The Ravens finished 12-4 in the regular season, winning the AFC North division title for the first time in five seasons, sweeping the Pittsburgh Steelers and earning the second seed in the AFC playoffs.
"The chemistry in the passing game will come," Cameron said. "If it was easy for all new guys just to light it up in the passing game, then everybody would do it every year. I think you saw progress."
Against the Patriots, the Ravens gained 398 yards of total offense as Flacco completed 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards and two scores with one interception.
If not for Evans' failure to secure an accurate Flacco throw in the end zone that was ripped away by Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore, the Ravens would have advanced to the Super Bowl.
"It was no surprise to me, no surprise to Joe," Cameron said. "We've seen Joe play well in big games, in big games on the road. He played extremely well. I'm proud of him.
"We know what we've got to get done. There will be some personnel changes on offense to help us get better. He's excited about us getting that done."
Cameron has had a lot of detractors since his arrival in Baltimore, but Harbaugh and the organization has stuck with him.
A year ago when the Ravens lost to the Steelers in the AFC divisional round, owner Steve Bisciotti famously said: "We like Cam under fire as our offensive coordinator next year."
And now the Ravens are bringing Cameron back, intent on upgrading the offense more next season.
Although many fans immediately expressed disapproval with Cameron's return, the veteran play-caller said he accepts those reactions as par for the course.
"I know that goes with the territory," Cameron said. "When you're the offensive play-caller and everyone can evaluate run or pass and who should have had it thrown to them, that really is where the interest of this game is. People aren't really sitting around second-guessing a ton of other stuff.
"Criticism is part of the game. It goes with the coordinator, it goes with the quarterbacks. We've got to go out and prove ourselves every week. I think everybody should be confident going into next year."
NOTE: The Ravens signed offensive guard Howard Barbieri and linebacker Cody Glenn to reserve/future deals.
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