John Mitchell is in his 18th season as the Steelers’ defensive line coach, ranking him as the longest-tenured member of the Steelers’ coaching staff. He remained with the team following Mike Tomlin’s hiring in January, 2007, and was promoted to assistant head coach
John Mitchell is in his 18th season as the Steelers’ defensive line coach, ranking him as the longest-tenured member of the Steelers’ coaching staff. He remained with the team following Mike Tomlin’s hiring in January, 2007, and was promoted to assistant head coach.
Mitchell, who joined the Steelers’ coaching staff Jan. 31, 1994, is in his 39th season of coaching, including 16 years at the college level and two in the United States Football League. This is his 21st season as an NFL coach.
Mitchell has been instrumental in the development of the Steelers’ defensive linemen, including five-time Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton and defensive end Aaron Smith, who earned his first Pro Bowl appearance in 2005. He also helped develop starting defensive end Brett Keisel and nose tackle Chris Hoke, who filled in sensationally for an injured Hampton during the 2004 season.
Under his guidance, Pittsburgh’s defensive front helped the Steelers lead the NFL in run defense five times and finish in the top three on 12 separate occasions. The team has only allowed one 100-yard rusher for a stretch of 50 straight regular-season games from 2007-10 and allowed just 62.8 yards per game rushing in 2010, shattering the previous team record set in 2001. In addition, the 62.8 yards per game placed the Steelers as one of the best since the NFL merger in 1970.
Strong play by Mitchell’s line was a huge reason why the Steelers finished the 2008 regular season second overall in the NFL behind the Minnesota Vikings against the run (80.3 avg.). In 2009, Pittsburgh’s defense ranked fifth in the NFL while leading the AFC and finishing one shy of the NFL lead with 47 sacks. In 2010 the Steelers put on a defensive showcase by leading the NFL in at least eight categories, including total sacks (48), and total points allowed (232), and it was the first time in NFL history a team was able to hold their opponents to 75 or fewer yards in each of their first eight games.
A former All-America defensive end for Alabama, Mitchell was the first African- American to play for the Crimson Tide. Mitchell’s early years in coaching were spent studying under two of college football’s greatest coaches. He began his coaching career in 1973 as defensive line coach under Paul ‘‘Bear’’ Bryant at Alabama (1973-76). He then spent six seasons as defensive line coach at Arkansas (1977- 82) on Lou Holtz’s staff.
In 1983, Mitchell made his first move to the professional level. From 1983-85 he served as defensive line coach for the USFL’s Birmingham Stallions and returned to the college ranks in 1986 as defensive ends coach at Temple. Mitchell began a four-year stint in 1987 as linebackers coach at Louisiana State (1987-90) under former Steelers’ linebacker coach Mike Archer, who was the head coach. In 1990, Mitchell became the first African-American defensive coordinator in Southeastern Conference (SEC) history when he was named LSU’s defensive coordinator. He also coached the Tigers’ linebackers.
Mitchell, 58, joined the NFL ranks in 1991 with the Cleveland Browns, where he tutored two Pro Bowl defensive tackles, Michael Dean Perry and Rob Burnett. Mitchell accepted his current appointment following three seasons coaching the defensive line for the Browns.
A two-time Junior College All-American defensive end at Eastern Arizona Junior College in 1969-70, Mitchell then transferred to Alabama. A starter at defensive end from 1971-72, Mitchell earned All-America honors in 1972. He earned a bachelor’s degree in social work in 1972. In 2009, Mitchell was elected into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
Born in Mobile, Ala., Mitchell and his wife Joyce live in Pittsburgh.