Every year in the NFL, teams experience gains and losses throughout the offseason. With the flurry of the beginning of the new year being exciting as fans look to see what interesting new piece their teams can sign or if they will still be able to retain a player who is hitting the open market, sometimes there are other moves that are made at different points which have a significant impact in other ways.
As for what could be the Steelers biggest loss of the 2023 offseason, it actually occurred a month before the beginning of free agency kicked in. In mid February, the Steelers announced that longtime assistant coach John Mitchell was retiring after 29 seasons with the Steelers.
John Mitchell’s path of greatness began long before he joined the Steelers coaching staff in 1994. Being one of two players who broke Alabama‘s color barrier in 1971, Mitchell started every game for his two remaining seasons of eligibility as he joined the Crimson Tide after two years in the Junior College ranks at Eastern Arizona. Drafted in the 7th round by the San Francisco 49ers, Mitchell battled illness during the preseason and did not make the team. Returning to law school at Alabama that fall, Mitchell was instead hired as the defensive ends coach becoming both the youngest coach and the first African-American assistant coach at Alabama. After four years with the Crimson Tide and six years in Arkansas, Coach Mitchell moved to the USFL and spent three seasons with the Birmingham Stallions. When the USFL folded, Mitchell went back to the college ranks at Temple and LSU where he moved up to be defensive coordinator his final season before moving to the NFL as the Cleveland Browns defensive line coach in 1991. After three seasons in Cleveland, Mitchell moved to be the Steelers defensive line coach in 1994 and remained with the team until this past February. Taking on the additional role of assistant head coach in 2007 and then transitioning to only be the assistant head coach since 2018, Mitchell has been a part of the Steelers through four Super Bowl appearances.
For a coach like John Mitchell to stay with the team for nearly 3 decades, it is a testimony to both his skill as a coach and the respect given from the players. In the league where coaches can change out year to year, Coach Mitchell was a mainstay even in one of the most stable franchises in terms of coaching in all of professional sports.
Upon his retirement in February, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin released the following statement:
Coach Tomlin on John Mitchell: pic.twitter.com/vM9zqRMtvt— Pittsburgh Steelers (@steelers) February 15, 2023
John Mitchell never put on a helmet for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He never stepped on the playing field during live action. He never had a tackle for loss, fumble recovery, a sack, or even a single snap played. Yet John Mitchell’s impact on the Steelers, particularly their defense, was felt for decades.
In the great engine that is the NFL, the train continues to roll on even after those have gotten off at the last station. The Steelers will roll into Latrobe and prepare for the upcoming season just as they have for many years.Players will make plays and teams will celebrate victories suffer through the sinking feeling of defeat. And the Steelers 2023 season will roll on without John Mitchell. But during this time where teams are on a hiatus before the flurry of the upcoming season kicks into full effect, it’s appropriate to realize the loss the Steelers will have the season without Coach Mitchell in the meetings and on the sidelines for the Pittsburgh Steelers.