Broadway Battle: Who is to blame for Dean Pees heading to Atlanta?

Welcome to the next in our series of Broadway Battles. Last time, we saw Mike Herndon T.K.O. Super Horn in the battle of “Pep Hamilton.” Even though the Tennessee Titans went on to ignore Mike and instead hire from within by promoting Todd Downing, Mike still walks away with a point in the win column.

Today, we have a special one set for you as two of our most esteemed fighters battle over and answer the question:

Who is to blame for Dean Pees becoming the Falcons defensive coordinator?

In the red corner, weighing in at at what I assume is 155 lbs, measuring in at around 20 whiskey bottles tall, presenting the case that Mike Vrabel is to blame, Broadway’s CEO: Johnathan Boren!

And in the blue corner, weighing in at 20 lbs soaking wet, and measuring an astounding one baby giraffe, making the case that Dean Pees is to blame: Justin “Titans Film Room” Graver!

As always, at the very end of this article and on Twitter will be polls. These polls will determine the winner of the fight.

Why Mike Vrabel is to blame for Dean Pees heading to Atlanta

Johnathan: No one knows the exact situation or conversations that took place between the Titans, Mike Vrabel and Dean Pees at the end of the 2019 season. What is for sure is that Dean Pees made the decision to retire, and Mike Vrabel stated he wasn’t going to talk him out of retiring a second time.

Obviously, when Vrabel brought Pees to Tennessee, it was pretty clear that Pees would not be a long-term solution. That said, the debacle that was the 2020 Tennessee Titans defense is on Vrabel. A common coaching saying is “You are either coaching it or allowing it,” and the buck stops with the man in the Head Coach position.

Based on the coaching moves that have taken place under Vrabel, this is a staff that values consistency more than anything. In this situation, though, 2019 saw moves that valued it too much, and saw a defense regress with primarily the same players. The end result? Internal promotions and more “consistency.”

Ultimately, this staff “allowed” this situation by being ill-prepared for a Pees departure while Vrabel did not feel the urgency to prevent it. Vrabel had to know that Pees would not be around forever, regardless of what has taken place since.

The decision to not promote or hire anyone into the defensive coordinator position, only to see a promotion of someone who was, for all intents and purposes, playing that role defies logic and sends a message that there was no plan in place. Compound that with the news in November that Pees was willing to consider coaching again, and this was an abject failure from Vrabel. 

My guess is that one of two things occurred:

Option 1 – Pees decided to retire and then, due to COVID boredom or simply realizing he still had an itch for a game he has been around his entire life, changed his mind.

Option 2 – Vrabel wanted more than a year-to-year commitment from Pees and decided to move on, thinking he could replace him relatively easily given the majority of players who’d at that point had two years in the system. 

If I were a betting man, I’d say Option 1 is much more likely. In no way should that have been a surprise to Vrabel, though. Even if Pees had said he would be back previously, having a coordinator at 70 years old should come accompanied with a succession plan of some sort. I don’t blame a man for having some indecision in walking away from the main thing he has known his entire adult life. I blame the team, and that starts with Vrabel, for not being prepared for it.

Dean Pees does not have an obligation to Vrabel beyond being transparent in his intentions. Mike Vrabel does have an obligation to lead this team regardless of who is at Defensive Coordinator – should they even decide they need one!

Unfortunately, the lack of ability to address this leaves one result: a heavily offensive team, built around a position with the shortest shelf life, managed to waste one of their prime seasons by fielding one of the worst defenses to ever play in the NFL. 

Why Dean Pees is to blame for Dean Pees heading to Atlanta

Justin: Dean Pees made a decision to retire at the close of the 2019 season.

That was Pees’ decision to make. He had previously un-retired to join Mike Vrabel’s staff in 2018, hoping to help his former pupil find success as a first-time head coach, which he did. And then he returned to his short-lived retirement.

With Pees at defensive coordinator, the Titans installed a new defense in 2018 and continued to improve throughout the 2019 season, culminating in back-to-back road playoff upsets in which the defense gave up a combined 25 points, forced 5 total turnovers, and scored a touchdown of their own.

After that season, it was clear the Titans had a window that doesn’t come around often in the NFL. Equipped with an explosive offense, led by a commanding quarterback and a powerful rushing attack, and a competent defense, this was a team ready to compete with anyone.

Although that defense faltered in the 2019 AFC Championship game at Kansas City, rather than regroup and retool for the 2020 season, rather than maximize what could be his last window to coordinate a potential Super Bowl competitor, Pees walked away again. He re-entered retirement and left the Titans coordinator-less.

It’s not Mike Vrabel’s fault that Pees decided to retire, it’s Pees’ “fault” — not that I actually fault him for it. At the time, the decision made sense. Unfortunately for Pees, his retirement was interrupted by COVID-19, and whatever plans he may have had for traveling with his family were obviously disrupted.

By all accounts, including his own, Pees decision to retire was entirely personal — to spend more time with family, and for the sake of his health (remember Pees was taken to the hospital during the Titans’ 2018 matchup at Indianapolis for a medical emergency).

Should Vrabel have been more prepared for Pees’ departure? Absolutely. There’s no absolving Vrabel of blame for the Shane Bowen-led disaster of last season.

But he’s not to blame for Pees heading to Atlanta.

According to Paul Kuharsky, when Pees was defensive coordinator in Nashville, the Titans had to structure their days around a schedule that allowed Pees to leave the building by 8 p.m. Further, the Titans defense under Pees — while it was much better than the 2020 version — was still at best an average defense (18th in Football Outsiders’ defensive DVOA). “Average” would’ve been a major step up last year, but it’s still not the ultimate goal.

Can the Titans reach that average level or better without Pees? That remains to be seen. Should Vrabel have dismissed Bowen and attempted to hire an outside candidate? Possibly so. But those are separate issues from Pees’ decision to head to Atlanta.

PK reported that Pees didn’t choose the Atlanta defensive coordinator job under Art Smith over the same position with the Titans. Vrabel did not offer Pees his old job back. We can only speculate on the reason why, but an obvious possibility is the short-term nature of re-hiring the 71-year-old coach with the looming task of replacing him again in the near future.

Instead, Vrabel offered Pees a consulting position, which seems perfectly reasonable. That role would presumably allow Pees to easily leave the building before 8 p.m. each day and give Bowen room to continue learning under Pees’ guidance as the team’s defensive coordinator. When Pees decided to retire again, he would be able to walk away without drastically altering the Titans’ coaching staff.

But Pees wasn’t interested in that role. He obviously missed coaching during his second retirement, and he’s expressed an immense respect for Arthur Smith. I subscribe to the idea that Pees is attracted to the chance to help a young first-time head coach find their way — just as he did for Vrabel a few years ago.

Mike Vrabel deserves blame for a lot of things, but Pees wanting to go to Atlanta isn’t one of them.

That decision falls on Pees alone.

The Winner?

That’s for you to decide. By next week, before the next article in this battle series, we will close voting here and on Twitter. So tell us who won by voting, and leave your thoughts in the comment section below!

Broadway Battle: Who's to blame for Dean Pees heading to Atlanta?

  • Justin wins: Dean Pees is to blame (74%, 67 Votes)
  • Johnathan wins: Mike Vrabel is to blame (26%, 23 Votes)

Total Voters: 90

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Author: Zach LyonsWith over 17 years experience of losing Fantasy Football games, Zach has been a Titans fan since moving to Nashville in 2002. A die-hard Alabama fan, but he doesn't let that cloud his judgement of the Elite Players they have put in the NFL. Players like Derrick Henry, Julio Jones, and AJ McCarron. You've heard him on Football & Other F Words giving his Unfiltered Opinions as facts and that won't change. He's always 100% right even if he has to revise earlier statements. Lawyered.


  1. Is there really any BLAME to go around here? Feels like both arguments are right. If Vrabel didn’t offer Pees the chance to come back midseason and work with Bowen, then I’d totally blame Vrabel.

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