Former Steelers Assistant John Mitchell Finalist For PFWA Lifetime Achievement Award

After a 29-year run with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the defensive line coach and assistant head coach, John Mitchell is a finalist for the Pro Football Writers of America’s Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, given annually for lifetime achievement as an NFL assistant coach.

Mitchell is on the PFWA ballot with former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Thomas Catlin, current New York Giants defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, former NFL offensive line coach Bobb McKittrick, and former NFL defensive assistant and defensive coordinator Floyd Peters.

Mitchell announced his retirement from the Steelers on Feb. 15, following a near-three decades tenure that started in 1994 when then-head coach Bill Cowher hired him away from the Cleveland Browns to coach the defensive line. Mitchell, who is staying with the team until the end of April, talked to Steelers Depot last month about his time with the Steelers.

A football coach since 1973, Mitchell was the Steelers’ longest-tenured coach. Mitchell was the Steelers’ defensive line coach until 2017 when he moved into a liaison role while maintaining his title as assistant head coach. Karl Dunbar officially replaced him as defensive line coach that year, but Mitchell was an on-field presence and could be spotted helping out with defensive line drills during training camp.

Throughout his career, Mitchell 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 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.

His tenure with the Steelers included three Super Bowl trips and two Super Bowl wins. In his time with the Steelers five defensive linemen were named to at least one Pro Bowl – Casey Hampton, Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith and Joel Steed.

Voting for the PFWA and the Paul “Dr. Z” Zimmerman Award, which will have two recipients, will remain open until May 1.

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