Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers assistant coach John Mitchell has retired after 29 seasons with the club, the team announced on Wednesday.
Mitchell, 71, has been with the Steelers since 1994 and had been the longest-tenured member of the coaching staff. Originally hired by Bill Cowher to be the team’s defensive line coach, Mitchell was promoted to assistant head coach in 2007. He gave up his defensive line duties in 2018 and was just Mike Tomlin’s assistant head coach for the last five seasons.
“I’m grateful to the Rooney family for the wonderful opportunity to coach and work for the Steelers for nearly 30 years,” Mitchell said in a press release. “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.”
With the Steelers, Mitchell was a part of two Super Bowl-winning teams in 2005 and 2008. In his time as defensive line coach, he mentored five Steelers Pro Bowl defensive linemen: Casey Hampton, Cam Heyward, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith and Joel Steed.
“I’m not sure that I can offer sufficient praise and admiration for Mitch — as both a man and football coach,” Tomlin said. “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.
“Those traits were most evident when he chose to attend the University of Alabama. Mitch’s path not only changed his life, but the lives of so many others. It’s impossible to truly measure his impact on the game, but I’m eternally grateful for the 16 years we worked together and wish him and Joyce the absolute best in retirement.”
One of the great ones! Enjoy retirement Coach Mitch https://t.co/Won8OlRGkL
— Kenny Pickett (@kennypickett10) February 15, 2023
A Mobile, Alabama native, Mitchell attended junior college at Eastern Arizona before returning to Alabama to play for Crimson Tide head coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson were the first Black players in Alabama history in 1971.
Mitchell started all 24 games in his two seasons in Tuscaloosa, winning two SEC championships. He was an All-America selection in 1972 and was selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1974 NFL Draft.
Undersized for his position at the NFL level, Mitchell was cut before playing a game with the 49ers and turns down opportunities to play football at lower levels, returning to Alabama in 1973 to coach at his alma mater. He won a national championship in his first season as a defensive ends coach.
After spending four more years at Alabama, Mitchell moved on to the Arkansas Razorbacks defensive line coach from 1977-82, the linebackers coach for the Birmingham Stallions of the USFL from 1983-85, and the Temple defensive line coach in 1986.
In 1987, Mitchell was hired by Mike Archer to be the outside linebackers coach at LSU, and after three seasons, he was promoted to defensive coordinator, becoming the first Black coordinator in SEC history. Mitchell was hired by the Cleveland Browns in 1991 to be the team’s defensive line coach under head coach Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Nick Saban.
After Steve Furness was fired at the conclusion of the 1993 season, Cowher hired Mitchell as the Steelers’ defensive line coach, and he remained in Pittsburgh for the rest of his professional career.
“Coach Mitch has been a pivotal member of the Steelers organization, in a variety of roles, for the better part of 30 years,” Steelers president Art Rooney II said. ”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.”
Mitchell is the second defensive-minded Steelers assistant coach to depart from the 2022 coaching staff. Senior defensive assistant and linebackers coach Brian Flores left to become the Minnesota Vikings defensive coordinator earlier this offseason.