The John Mitchell Story, One Man’s Impact on the Crimson Tide
The 2022 Alabama Crimson Tide A-Day will be held on Saturday. The Crimson Tide will hold its annual scrimmage between Teams Crimson and White at 2 p.m., but what is most important to the Alabama football program is what is happening around the game.
The Alabama football program is honoring John Mitchell and Wilbur Jackson this weekend as the two were the first African American football players in program history. The pair made history in 1971 and will be celebrated with a commemorative plaque outside of Bryant-Denny Stadium as well as be recognized at halftime of A Day.
Mitchell, a native of Williamson High School in Mobile Alabama, had to first go to junior college in Arizona before being recruited by bigger schools. The defensive end had already signed with Southern California but Paul "Bear" Bryant and the Crimson Tide swooped in late to change Mitchell's mind and earned his playing future.
"At that time they had recruiters in certain areas of the state. He (Bryant) called Judge Ferrill McRae who was the recruiter for Mobile and said, 'Hey, John McKay is signing a young man from Mobile, Alabama, all we know is his name is John Mitchell.' So Judge McRae got in the phone book and called every John Mitchell in the phone book - my father's a senior, I'm a junior - until he got my father," shared Mitchell on The Game with Ryan Fowler on Wednesday.
Bryant offered Mitchell without seeing him play a single snap. The legendary coach figured if his friend McKay considered him worthy for the Trojans, then he was worthy for the Crimson Tide.
For Mitchell, changing his mind to play for Alabama was a dream come true. Mitchell looked forward to playing for a then four-time national championship winner in Bryant, and the local team he had grown up rooting for. He didn't even consider at that time the impact he was making on the Alabama program as one of the first African American players for the Crimson Tide.
"No, not at all. The only thing that was on my mind was trying to make the football team. Coach Bryant was really tough, they had a lot of good other football players there and everyday I went to practice I wanted to show them my enthusiasm, and that I really wanted to be a part of that football team," said Mitchell.
The longtime defensive line coach went on to tell Fowler that despite the racial tensions permeating the state, he never had an issue due to the color of his skin.
"The thing that made it really easy for me, and I'm sure Wilbur would say the same thing, Alabama recruited not only good football players, but good people. There were a lot of good people there...I can say without hesitation that I never had a problem." concluded Mitchell.
The Mobile-native wanted to opt for graduate school after starting in 24 consecutive games for the Tide and winning two SEC Championships. Bryant, instead opted to make him a full-time defensive line coach, kick-starting what's turned into a now 49-year coaching career in college and in the NFL.
In his second year as Alabama defensive line coach, Mitchell was assigned to recruit, now Crimson Tide legend Ozzie Newsome. Bryant was concerned the Tide might've been losing its grip on Newsome and told Mitchell not to let the tight end out of his sight.
Mitchell left for Leighton, Alabama and followed Newsome around at school, to a basketball game and all the way home to convince him to sign with the Crimson Tide.
The young assistant coach refused to leave the Newsome household without assurances from Ozzie, committing so deeply to Bryant's instructions that he resorted to sleeping on the family couch until Ozzie made his decision.
"I said, 'Mrs. Newsome, no disrespect, Coach Bryant told me not to let Ozzie out of my sight, I ain't leaving.' I slept right on the sofa that night and so Ozzie committed to us." said Mitchell.
The two-time Super Bowl winner and Alabama Sports Hall of Famer went into his time with the Crimson Tide with Ryan Fowler on The Game on Wednesday. Check out the full interview to hear his thoughts on playing for Coach Bryant, how he coaches his Pittsburgh Steelers player in similar fashion and much, much more.
Mitchell will be honored at the 2022 A-Day football game along with Wilbur Jackson as the first two African American football players in Crimson Tide program history. Mitchell won two SEC Championships as a player for the Tide and won a national championship as an assistant coach at Alabama as well. He currently serves as Pittsburgh Steelers assistant head coach.