View Full Version : Steelers assistant Mitchell is a football trail blazer

05-29-2009, 08:02 AM
Steelers assistant Mitchell is a football trail blazer

By Mike Bires, Times Sports Staff
Published: Friday, May 29, 2009 12:03 AM EDT
PITTSBURGH — Most Steelers’ fans don’t realize it, but John Mitchell is a true football pioneer.

Since arriving in Pittsburgh 16 years ago, he’s been regarded as one of the NFL’s finest defensive line coaches. But his legacy extends back to the early 1970s when he broke the color line at the University of Alabama.

Mitchell was the first African-American to play football for the Crimson Tide.

“John is a trail blazer, and that’s not overstating it,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. “If you look at his career and the things he’s done, he’s a trail blazer.”

“He is history,” added Anthony Madison, a Steelers reserve cornerback/special teams whiz who played for the Tide.

The Alabama Sports Hall of Fame agrees.

So on Saturday, Mitchell will be one of eight inductees going into the ASHOF.

“It will be an emotional night,” said Mitchell, 57, a native of Mobile, Ala. “To have the state that you grew up in feel that much about you as an individual and a person, I think that says a lot. It’ll be a really big day in my life.”

In 1971, Mitchell arrived at Alabama after transferring from Eastern Arizona Junior College where he was a two-time JUCO All-American. At ’Bama, he starred on teams that went 11-1 and 10-2 and played in the Cotton and Sugar bowls. As a senior, Mitchell was an All-American.

Mitchell’s coaching career started with a four-year-stint (1973-76) under the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant as defensive line coach.

After a three-year stint (1987-89) as linebackers coach at Louisiana State University, he became the Tigers’ defensive coordinator. That promotion made Mitchell the first African-American D-coordinator in Southeastern Conference history.

In July of 2007, just before his first training camp with the Steelers, Tomlin promoted Mitchell to assistant head coach/defensive line coach.

“John has done everything that needs to be done to be recognized in this fashion,” Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said of Mitchell’s induction. “Every player he gets, he makes better. I don’t know of a stronger testimony for a coach. Everybody he touches, he makes better.”

El-Gonzo Jackson
05-29-2009, 12:52 PM
That is a great article!!

I knew he was the 1st black player at Bama and coached for "The Bear". Strange to believe that he has been with the Steelers for 16 years, instrumental in many dominant D-lines with guys like Kevin Henry, Orpheus Roye, Brentson Buckner and..............John Mitchell gets little or no credit.

LeBeau said it best that every player he gets he makes better. I'm really stoked to see what coach Mitch can do with a 1st round talent. (and Sonny Harris)