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John Mitchell to be inducted into the NJCAA Foundation Hall of Fame

John Mitchell to be inducted into the NJCAA Foundation Hall of Fame

As you may recall last week during the Pittsburgh Steelers introduction of Najee Harris press conference, a member of the press asked the first-round selection if he had met Assistant Head Coach John Mitchell. He mentioned that John Mitchell was the first African American to play college football at the University of Alabama—also humorously mentioning Coach Mitchell was also from “L.A.” (Lower Alabama)!

This week, Coach John Mitchell got more recognition for his contributions to the game of football. The National Junior College Athletic Association Foundation announced they would be enshrining Coach John Mitchell into the Inaugural Hall of Fame Class of 2021. The NJCAA Foundation’s Hall of Fame seeks to recognize members who paved the future for opportunities at the two-year level—and having lasting impacts and influence for the foundation. Coach Mitchell no doubt fits that description.



Coach Mitchell was born in Mobile, Alabama, and was the third of five children in his household. He was an excellent scholar in high school and was also a great athlete. Despite his excellence in academics and athletics, he was not offered any major program scholarships from his home state—many citing his frame as underwhelming for his position along the offensive and defensive line.

Despite a lack of scholarship interest, he would overcome this on a path to a fruitful career. Beginning his collegiate career at Eastern Arizona, he was recognized as a two-time Junior College All-American; en route to earning his Associates in Social Work. After Mitchell initially committing to USC, rumor has it that Paul “Bear” Bryant learned about his talent on the golf course and aggressively recruited Mitchell back to his home state to play at the University of Alabama—a program which at the time had no African American players on it.



Mitchell committed to Alabama and became the first African American to play for the Crimson Tide in 1971. He received recognition for his outstanding play while at Alabama; being selected as an All-American and All-SEC team member. He would finish his academic career at Alabama with a Bachelor of Science in Social Welfare. He would then be selected by the San Francisco 49ers in the 1973 NFL Draft.

While his playing career didn’t come to fruition in the NFL, he has hired by Paul “Bear” Bryant to coach defensive ends at the University of Alabama—jump-starting his coaching career. He would go on to win a national championship and multiple conference championships as an assistant in the college ranks.



In 1994, Coach Mitchell found his home in Pittsburgh as a defensive line coach where he is currently the longest-tenured coach and one of the longest-tenured members of the organization—one of the last remaining members of the Donahoe-Cowher era. Since his hire, he was a key member of the organization’s 4 Super Bowl appearances—winning two—and was promoted to Assistant Head Coach by Mike Tomlin in 2007. He coached and molded the careers of modern-Steelers legends such as Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, and Cameron Heyward. He was inducted into the Pittsburgh Pro Football and Alabama Sports Hall of Fames in 2012 and 2009, respectively.

There is no doubt that the contributions of Coach John Mitchell are properly recognized. In a time of racial tensions following the Civil Rights era, his role in breaking the race barrier at the University of Alabama set the path for future minority athletes across the nation. His work in his communities and organizations has had lasting impacts and influence on the game of football. He is a player and coach that is the definition of an NJCAA Foundation Hall of Famer. He may very well be recognized in Canton for his contributions to the game as well.


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