Assistant head coach John Mitchell just finished his 27th year with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both the first Black player and coach for the Alabama Crimson Tide in the early 1970s, Coach Mitchell will be honored on Saturday, along with teammate Wilbur Jackson, during Alabama’s 2022 Golden Flake A-Day Game according to Teresa Varley of Steelers.com.
John Mitchell broke barriers while he was at the University of Alabama, and this weekend the University will honor Mitchell, the Steelers Assistant Head Coach, during the 2022 Golden Flake A-Day Game, the school's annual spring football game.— Teresa Varley (@Teresa_Varley) April 14, 2022
️: https://t.co/Ov3KPkJe2w pic.twitter.com/bLoVhp5g65
After spending nearly 2 decades coaching at both the college level and in the USFL, John Mitchell broke into the NFL‘s coaching ranks in 1991 with the Cleveland Browns. After three seasons in Cleveland as the defensive line coach under Bill Belichick, Mitchell came to the Pittsburgh Steelers under Bill Cowher in 1994. Serving as the Steelers defensive line coach through the rest of Cowher’s head coaching career, Mitchell added the title of assistant head coach as well as keeping his defensive line coach role when Mike Tomlin was hired by the Steelers in 2007. In 2018, Mitchell moved to the sole position of assistant head coach when the Steelers hired defensive line coach Karl Dunbar from the University of Alabama.
In the article announcing coach Mitchell’s honoring on Saturday, Teresa Varley described Mitchell’s time with the Crimson Tide as follows:
Mitchell was the first Black football player to play for Alabama. Mitchell became the first Black captain, All-American and All-SEC selection at Alabama, not just breaking the barriers, but shattering them.
He continued to break down doors, becoming the first Black coach in Alabama history, when he was hired as the team’s defensive ends coach right out of college to work on Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant’s staff in 1973.
For a more in-depth breakdown of Steelers assistant head coach John Mitchell’s career at Alabama, Teresa Varley wrote a fantastic, in-depth piece about Coach Mitchell this past February which can be seen HERE.
Here is an excerpt from Varley’s piece on John Mitchell titled “Mitchell broke barriers to live out his dream” from February:
Like many young kids growing up in Mobile, Alabama, John Mitchell dreamt about going to the University of Alabama.
But like so many young kids growing up in his Mobile neighborhood, at the time that he did, he knew that it was most likely nothing more than that – a dream.
Mitchell was born in 1951, a time when there was segregation in Alabama and throughout the South. And it wasn’t just in the schools where it was felt, it was everyday life where blacks and whites were separated, and he had to deal with every aspect of it.
“It was pretty tough as a kid growing up, especially right there in Mobile and the state of Alabama,” said Mitchell. “People talk now about confederate flags, at that time they were everywhere, in the stores, shopping centers. If they had a confederate flag in the window or outside the door, that was a sign that people of color were not welcome. At that time schools were segregated. There were black schools and white schools. Transportation was segregated. Black people would pay the same as white people but had to sit at the back of the bus. If they bus was crowded, they had to get up and give their seat to a white person. They had separate restaurants, shopping. Black people, if you went to the movies, you had to go through the back door to go in and then they couldn’t sit in the front of the theater, they had to sit in the balcony.”
Mitchell often wondered why. Why was there such a divide, a divide highlighted by those who lived on the other side of the railroad track.