5 things to know about Alabama football legend John Mitchell, who will be honored at A-Day

Maxwell Donaldson
The Tuscaloosa News

Alabama football will honor trailblazer John Mitchell at the 2022 A-day Game

Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson, who will also be honored, helped integrate the Alabama football program in 1971. 

After Mitchell's playing days ended, Paul W. "Bear" Bryant hired him as an assistant coach. Nearly 50 years later, Mitchell still coaches in the NFL. At LSU in 1990, he became the first Black defensive coordinator in the SEC. 

Mitchell is a member of the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame. 

Different route to Alabama 

Mitchell didn't come to Alabama directly out of high school. He came instead from Eastern Arizona Junior College. 

After junior college, he committed to Southern Cal and coach John McKay, who mentioned to Bryant during a golf round that he had an Alabama native committed. Bryant set out to find and recruit Mitchell, who quickly took a visit to Alabama and committed. 

He played on two SEC championship teams and was twice an All-SEC selection as a defensive lineman. 

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This is a photo of John Mitchell of the Pittsburgh Steelers NFL football team. This image reflects the Pittsburgh Steelers active roster as of Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2020. (AP Photo)

First Black football assistant at Alabama 

Mitchell wanted to go to graduate school but needed a job. Bryant offered him a full-time position as an assistant coach. He become the first Black assistant football coach and youngest assistant coach at Alabama. 

He helped Alabama win the 1973 national championship and three SEC Championships (1973-75) as a coach. 

More:Alabama football announces 2022 A-Day Game date, will honor Wilbur Jackson, John Mitchell

More:5 things to know about former Alabama running back Wilbur Jackson, who will be honored at A-Day

Still an NFL assistant 

Mitchell still is coaching with the Pittsburgh Steelers as assistant head coach. The Steelers list his job as helping with staff development and helping players with career development. He helps coach Mike Tomlin with community-related events. 

Mitchell has been with the Steelers since 1994, primarily coaching the defensive line. 

Mitchell has 49 years of experience as an assistant coach, with 15 seasons in college and two in the USFL. Mitchell has helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls (2005 and 2008). 

Coached under legends

Mitchell's ties to Alabama coaches don't end at Bryant. When he was coaching the defensive line for the Cleveland Browns, the defensive coordinator was Nick Saban. The head coach of that team was current Patriots coach Bill Belichick. 

During his first years in Pittsburgh, Mitchell coached under Bill Cowher and also coached under Lou Holtz at Arkansas. 

Alabama native 

A native of Mobile, Mitchell graduated from Williamson High. While in high school, Mitchell and four classmates won a state science fair and placed third nationally. The success earned the group scholarships from Alabama and Auburn, but Mitchell turned them down to pursue football.