Joel Steed: “Coach Mitchell – he was just incredible. He should be up for a head coaching job. He really understood the pressure. The moment of now.”
Casey Hampton: “Coach Mitchell treated everyone the same at first. He was a great coach. Once you proved yourself he’d treat you a certain way then. He treated everyone differently and was very tough, but he was always fair.”
Aaron Smith: “It’s funny. As a rookie I hated Mitch. I couldn’t stand him. I thought he despised me and I despised him. Then the next year the Steelers drafted another defensive lineman and I saw how hard he was on him. I realized then it wasn’t about me.
I know now he’s a wonderful man. As a rookie you don’t know or see him for who he is. He sees in you what you don’t see in yourself. You think he’s just picking on you. But as a rookie you don’t know what you don’t know.
We laugh about it now. I thought he hated me and I hated him. But now, there’s no greater person. He’s tough and old school – and that’s why I like him and find myself coaching just like him. I find myself saying the same things, trying to be like him.”
Chris Hoke: ” Mitchell in his press conference after drafting Ta’amu, he said he didn’t care what he’s done – he was going to teach him the Steeler way.
He takes young guys with or without a pedigree and starts from scratch. He teaches them technique – leverage, using your hands well and to hustle. In college you may rush upfield and that’s it. That’s not the way in Pittsburgh – there’s a specific way of doing things.”
Hebron Fangupo: “John Mitchell – there was a method to his madness. He was always mad. But I learned a lot from him. How to get players to match a coach’s personality – the toughness that he expected. You knew he meant business. But man, if you give the guy a glass of wine, he’ll sing for you.”
There were times when I wondered why John Mitchell was so mean. But now with my own group of players, when I’m preparing playbooks and take the time to write down my philosophies and they’re not studied – that’s really frustrating. Now I know why he would get so mad.”
Lavon Hooks: “Coach Mitchell would say more detail. Execute each play. Whether it’s containment or zone plays away from me, follow the assignment the way it’s written up.”
Scott Paxson: “The 3-4 was an adjustment and it took some time learning it. As a defensive lineman, it’s a whole different stance and way of taking off the ball. I did have the best coach. I learned under Coach John Mitchell. That man I owe so much too. He ripped me apart and built me up. He is a straight shooter and looked me In the eyes and told me what it would take to make the team or practice team. I took his advice and during all camps I would sit up front of the special teams meeting room because if you’re and an undrafted free agent you better be playing special teams!”
Ryan McBean: “I learned so much from Coach John Mitchell, that the game was a business, and it about producing and picking the right people to accomplish your goals. His approach I have taken with me to every team and this business.
My employees are my team, and we have to give great service everyday, that sense of urgency that Coach John Mitchell instilled in me, I practice at Right at Home and on the field.“
Nick Eason: “Defensive Line Coach John Mitchell taught the simple things – technique, and unselfish play. I never wanted to let those guys down – I knew I had to be on my gaps like they were.”
Oliver Gibson: “Coach Mitchell is arguably the best defensive line coach in the NFL. The proof is in his tenure – what, nineteen years? I learned how to play defensive line in the 3-4 due to John Mitchell. I’d ultimately like to be a defensive coordinator in the NFL.
No one outworks John Mitchell. The perseverance in his career…..he was one of the first Black players at Alabama. His work ethic and attention to detail are amazing.”
Rodney Bailey: “Coach Mitchell. He was a big inspiration for me – still is. He worked me very hard because he was potential. He told me I needed to grow up fast – that this wasn’t college. And he was right.”
Nolan Harrison: “What convinced me to come was when Coach Mitchell showed me the film of nose tackle Joel Steed destroying various offensive lines. I knew that I wanted to play next to that guy!”
Chris Combs: “Our Defensive Line coach in Pittsburgh John Mitchell used to watch film with me after practice during the season and that wasn’t something he had to do but he was willing to.”
Shaun Nua: “I will always remember coach Mitchell’s emphasis on intelligence. You have to be a smart football player to play for coach Mitchell. I always believe that Mitchell would prefer smart players over just athletic ones. He always told us that there are a lot of athletic guys on the street because they weren’t smart enough to play this game. I believe this and I always go back to this philosophy while coaching our defensive line or our scout teams.”
Rameel Connor: “Coach Mitchell is very knowledgeable and was a skilled instructor and motivator.”
Read more by former Steelers via the book Steelers Takeaways: Player Memories Through the Decades. To order, just click on the book: