OWINGS MILLS, Md. - When it comes to running the Baltimore Ravens defense, Dean Pees has no regard for history, tradition or statistics.
Pees doesn't give a hoot about following in a long line of brilliant defensive coordinators such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Mike Nolan and Chuck Pagano -- all of whom used their work in Baltimore to become NFL head coaches.
Pees couldn't care less about the fact that Baltimore has long relied on defense to win. It doesn't matter to him that from 1996 until this season, the Ravens never allowed the opposition to average more than 4.0 yards per carry, or that Baltimore's run of nine straight seasons in the top 10 for total defense ended under his watch in 2012.
For Pees, all of that is meaningless. Because, in spite of all the injuries he had to deal with this season, the Ravens are headed to the Super Bowl.
So the heck with all those big names that preceded him, and all those impressive numbers they put up. Pees has his own agenda, and it's safe to say there's no arguing with the results.
"I don't really care who was here, how well they did. I don't care how they did statistically. That stuff really means absolutely nothing," Pees said. "I come in here to do the best job that I possibly can. That's it. Every year is a different year. Sometimes you just have a great amount of talent. Some years you go through and you never have any injuries. Some years you go through and you have injuries. My job is to do the best that I can every Sunday. History means nothing."
The 63-year-old Pees was promoted to defensive coordinator by head coach John Harbaugh in January after Pagano took the head coaching job in Indianapolis. Pees served as linebackers coach for two years with Baltimore after working as defensive coordinator with New England from 2006-09.
The offseason loss of free agents Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding, along with injuries to several key players hampered his effort at the outset of this season. Linebacker Terrell Suggs missed the first six games with a torn right Achilles tendon and linebacker Ray Lewis (torn triceps) and cornerback Lardarius Webb (torn ACL) were lost in a win over Dallas on Oct. 14. Only two players started all 16 games in the regular season, safety Ed Redd and cornerback Cary Williams, making Pees delve deep into the depth chart to keep the defense afloat.
At first, Pees tried to stay the course. Then he realized that it was time to alter the game plan.
"You start realizing that this is not quite the same group of guys that we had a year ago doing the same thing," Pees said. "After we got through the (late-October bye), I think we really changed as a defense, and for the better. Maybe I should have seen that a little earlier, but I didn't."
The younger players on the defense grew in their roles, and when the Ravens finally got healthy heading into the postseason, Pees showed what he could accomplish with virtually everyone at his disposal. Baltimore held Indianapolis to three field goals in the playoff opener, muffled Peyton Manning in Denver and limited New England to a single touchdown in the AFC title game.
"Dean did a great job transitioning really what is a young defense," Harbaugh said. "When you look at our defense a bit, it's become a young defense. We needed to adjust what we were doing a little bit schematically, and we did that. We got back to playing in a very fundamentally sound way. And it showed up in the way we played defense in the second half of this season."
Linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo, who played for both Ryan and Pees, found no trouble contrasting the two.
"Rex would draw plays in the dirt to get it done. Dean is going to prep and do things well in advance so we can practice it," Ayanbadejo said. "Dean is more of a student of the game than any coach I've ever seen. He tries to find little nuances in offenses that he can take advantage of. I've never quite seen D-coordinators do it that way. Usually they're stuck in their ways, but he comes up with new schemes and new blitzes and ways to attack teams based on little nuances they have.
"He's a self-taught pianist, which shows how intelligent he is. So when he coaches football, he kind of approaches it savant-like, with a different type of mentality. We play the game and it's physical. He plays the game and it's chess."
Given the Ravens' success this season, and understanding that being a defensive coordinator in Baltimore often is a precursor to a head coaching job, it's quite possible that Pees could one day be asked to take the top job with another team.
Ravens cornerback Corey Harris believes Pees would be good at it.
"He's a pretty laid-back coach, a guy that you would love to play for," Harris said. "He lets the players play and lets you go out there and express your personality and be who you are."
Pees, however, has no intention of taking on the responsibility that comes with being a head coach.
"I was one in college (at Kent State). They
can have that gig all they want," he said. "You become a head coach, you become everything but a coach. Especially in college, you're there speaking to alumni, you're doing all this stuff, you never coach. And, that's not why I got into this profession. I watch head coaches even in this league -- there's just so many other hats that you have to wear. I don't want to wear those hats. I want to wear this one right out here on the practice field, call defenses and play ball and have fun with the players."