How much longer will John Mitchell, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ veteran defensive line coach who will turn 66 years old in a month and a week, continue at his job before he ultimately decides to retire? This is a question that had Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Joe Starkey wondering recently.
He noted that Mitchell once said back in 2009 that his plan was to retire within five years and move back to his home in Alabama. But it’s 2017 now and he’s still going. And he is fueled by the positive environment that is around him, both with whom he works for whom he coaches.
Starkey asked him what ever happened to those plans to retire, and Mitchell told him, simply, “well, I like what I do”. He certainly could retire if he wanted to. The veteran position coach—who has also long held the dual distinction of assistant head coach since 2007—has been in the league since 1991, and with the Steelers since 1994, and has no doubt made enough to live off of in that time. But it was never about just making a living. It very rarely is when it comes to football.
“I like working for coach Tomlin”, he told Starkey. “I like the Rooney family. I have good football players. I think any time you’re a coach, you don’t want to walk away from good football players”. And if the Steelers keep the draft picks coming, it will be difficult for him to ever walk away.
In fact, one could argue that Mitchell has at his disposal this year the most talented group that he has ever worked with—perhaps only in deference to the championship trio of Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Kimo Von Oelhoffen, who later gave way to Brett Keisel.
But with such players as former first-round pick Cameron Heyward, second-rounder Stephon Tuitt, and third-rounder Javon Hargrave, the latter two of whom are just 24 years old—and not to mention the addition of veteran Tyson Alualu, another former first-round draft pick, and the growth of L.T. Walton—this current alignment will give even that group a run for its money.
“I think a coach knows when his time is up”, Mitchell said, “and when that day comes, I’m gonna be happy. I’ve had a great career. But it’s not up yet”.
One thing that is routinely clear on an annual basis is that the former Alabama player and coach always commands the respect and admiration of his players, and we see that from the likes of Heyward all the way down the line to the Roy Philons and Brian Arnfelts of the world.
Mitchell has a reputation of putting the pressure on young players. He told Starkey, “I don’t like rookies”, because “they don’t know anything. You have to strip ‘em down and show ‘em the way you want it done”. He’s done it with all of the great players mentioned in this article, and perhaps he’ll still be doing it the next time the Steelers need to start rebuilding their offensive line.
But with Hargrave only entering his second season, Heyward on a long-term deal, and Tuitt about to get one of his own, that could be a while. And that could keep Mitchell eager to come to work every day.