Just as I suspected, Pittsburgh Steelers Assistant Head Coach John Mitchell will not go quietly into that corner office. In spite of the fact that 66-year-old had ‘Defensive Line Coach’ dropped from his dual title this offseason, transitioning to the aforementioned role, Joe Rutter confirmed that he remains on the perimeter of practice as an interested observer.
That’s not to say that he is on the field getting his hands in the dirt and showing rookies how to hit the blocking sleds, but he does watch, and he converses with the other coaches, and I’m sure they’re not talking about how to make your own potpourri. They’re talking about what they’re seeing. He’s still a voice that gets heard on football matters.
“You know you could always hear Coach Mitch”, Stephon Tuitt told Rutter for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review during this week’s OTA practices in comparing Mitchell’s booming coaching voice to that of his new position coach. While he’s not audible, I noticed him actively watching practice and talking to the coaches during rookie minicamp from videos on the team’s website. That’s him over Marcus Allen‘s right shoulder standing near Keith Butler in the header image.
Mitchell was hired by the Steelers to coach their defensive linemen in 1994 and is the longest-tenured coach on the team by a comfortable margin. He coached the linemen from 1994 through the 2017 season, but the team hired Karl Dunbar to handle those duties for the 2018 season and beyond.
Dunbar is, in fact, a player that Mitchell personally coached while he was at LSU. He even ended up being drafted by the Steelers in 1990, though Mitchell was still at LSU at the time. He would break into the NFL a year later with the Cleveland Browns.
This is not to take anything away from Dunbar, to be sure. I have no doubt that Mitchell will not be stepping on his successor’s toes. But I believed all along that he would be keeping himself active in some form or fashion in the on-field work, even if it is now as a spectator offering the occasional advice instead of the person who has to teach the fundamentals, run the drills, and organize strategies to help individual players improve.
He has quite frankly been doing this for too long, and too recently, for me to believe that he’s not going to have anything to say out there on the field watching practice. He still knows how to coach; that’s just not his job anymore.
I’m speculating at this point, but I’m inclined to assume that he and Dunbar do speak about defensive line techniques and strategies, and perhaps most valuable would be his direct first-hand knowledge of the players on the roster, whom, aside from Joshua Frazier, the new coach is just getting to know.
So if Mitchell is still out there on the practice field—though not necessarily directly coaching players—I do wonder how much of a presence he is going to remain throughout the offseason, and even into the season. He is still an assistant head coach, after all.