Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers’ defensive line/assistant head coach John Mitchell has announced his retirement. The team made the announcement Wednesday afternoon that Mitchell, 71, would officially be moving on with his life’s work.
In a feature piece article penned by Steelers.com’s Teresa Varley and Bob Labriola, Mitchell offered the following statement.
“I’m grateful to the Rooney family for the wonderful opportunity to coach and work for the Steelers for nearly 30 years. It was truly an honor. I’d also like to thank Coach Tomlin for giving me the opportunity to stay with the franchise when Coach Cowher retired. I will treasure my time in Pittsburgh and appreciate everyone affiliated with the organization.”
In the same article, Mike Tomlin tried to put into words what Coach Mitchell meant to him and to the franchise.
“I’m not sure that I can offer sufficient praise and admiration for Mitch – as both a man and football coach. Mitch has been a central figure in the success of the Pittsburgh Steelers for nearly three decades. He has coached some of the best players in this franchise’s illustrious history, and each one of them, to a man, would tell you their success was a direct result of not only Mitch’s coaching acumen, but also his mentorship, leadership and character.”
Team President Art Rooney II also released the following statement about Mitchell’s life and career.
“Coach Mitch has been a pivotal member of the Steelers organization, in a variety of roles, for the better part of 30 years. When you consider his path, as both a player and coach, Mitch created opportunities in football for young Black men that quite honestly didn’t previously exist. He has left an imprint on this franchise, and the sport and culture of football, that will continue well beyond his retirement.”
Here is the full press release issued by the team on the news.
A football coach since 1973, Mitchell was the Steelers’ longest-tenured coach. Hired by Bill Cowher in 1994, he coached the defensive line from then until 2017 when he moved into a liaison role while maintaining his title as assistant head coach. Karl Dunbar officially replaced him as d-line coach but Mitchell was an on-field presence and could be spotted helping out with d-line drills during training camp.
As an assistant head coach, the Steelers’ defined his role as:
“Mitchell oversees staff development among the coaching staff, works with current and former players in career development, and assists Head Coach Mike Tomlin in community-related events.”
Throughout his career, Mitchell has taught many great Steelers’ defensive linemen. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt, Javon Hargrave, and countless others. An old-school style, Mitchell brought the best out in his players. He taught them to be technical, to be strong, and anyone who played under Coach Mitchell had to run to the football.
Mitchell was also a football pioneer, one of two first black players to play for Alabama. He became the first black player to ever be named captain for the Crimson Tide and was honored with a statue by the university last year.
A seventh round pick in the 1973 draft, his NFL career was brief before he got into coaching. He returned to Alabama and spent ten seasons there. He spent three years in the USFL coaching the Birmingham Stallions before returning to the college game to Temple in 1986, where he overlapped with then-Owls head coach Bruce Arians. Mitchell moved to LSU in 1987 and got his first NFL job with the Cleveland Browns in 1991 before being hired by the Steelers in 1994.
Mitchell marks the Steelers’ third coaching loss of the offseason. In addition to him, assistant Blaine Stewart left to become the TEs Coach at West Virginia while LBs Coach Brian Flores left for the DC job with the Minnesota Vikings.
Steelers’ players have already begun to comment on the news with Kenny Pickett tweeting:
Here’s former Steelers’ front office member Karim Kassam on the news.