For the first time in over two decades, the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive linemen are being coached and trained by somebody other than John Mitchell, who occupied that post from 1994 through the 2017 season. He was preceded by Joe Greene, who was on the job when Mitchell’s predecessor, Karl Dunbar, was drafted by the Steelers in 1990.
Not to worry, of course, because Mitchell did get to teach Dunbar as a college player at LSU. He spent years there before breaking into the NFL in the early 1990s, first with the Cleveland Browns, and then for the rest of his time at this level, in Pittsburgh.
So let’s recap. As a player, Dunbar was coached by John Mitchell in college, and briefly by Joe Greene at the professional level. Later, during his coaching career, he worked under Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin when the latter occupied the defensive coordinator post for the Minnesota Vikings in 2006.
That is certainly a lot of familiarity for Dunbar coming in, which explains why the Steelers were so comfortable in bringing him in to make a change as a position that has literally been untouched for decades. Mitchell was, quite easily, the longest-tenured member of the coaching staff in that position. He of course is still around.
That comfort level works both ways though. Remember, Dunbar was a draft pick of the Steelers, even though he never played a game for them. He went to Saint Vincent College in Latrobe in 1990. He knows what that’s all about. There are employees of the organization from that year that remain with the team to this day that he remembers.
“The continuity of the people here and the people in the staff makes me feel real comfortable”, he told reporters as minicamp came to a close in his first public opportunity to answer general questions since the Steelers hired him back in February. “I kept some of my Steeler ties”.
He even gets to bring an Alabama tie with him, because the Steelers, in part due to his influence, selected Joshua Frazier in the seventh round of the 2018 NFL Draft, one of the players that he had the opportunity to coach with the Crimson Tide at the college level over the course of the past two seasons.
So much of the complexity of a coach or a player entering his first season with a new team that creates issues goes unseen by the public. Just basic things like establishing yourself in a new city, learning where to eat, getting to know your peers, all add variables that can create issues in early-career performance.
Dunbar’s transition into the Steelers’ staff will have been easier than most, having already worked with or learned from multiple members of the staff, having worked as a player within the organization, and even having previously coached one of the players in his group. It’s really quite remarkable considering he only spent a summer as a Steeler.