By Bill Bradley, contributing editor
*Mitchell played for 12 seasons before he retired in 2001, when he went unsigned. He has since worked as a real estate developer, an entrepreneur and a high school football coach. Along the way, he has dealt with weight-gain issues that saw him top out at 366 pounds. *
Along with former NFL offensive linemen Damien Woody, the former University of Utah quarterback decided to take the challenge to live a healthier life this fall as part of the NBC series "The Biggest Loser," which airs Thursday nights this fall at 8 p.m. ET/PT. Mitchel talked with NFL Evolution on Wednesday about his NFL career, life after football and the experience that led him to battle his weight.
From a personal standpoint, I lived my childhood dream. I got to play quarterback in the National Football League. I was one of 32 people in the world that did what I did. For me that was a real special time. I cherished it, and as I get older, I find that I cherish my experience even more. I appreciate how hard it was, how unique it was and how special it was. You have disappointments and it's because you're competitive. The reason you get there is because you're competitive. You have the disappointment of, "Gosh, I wish I would have won a Super Bowl or been in the Hall of Fame." But the overall experience was really a great time for me in my life.
You retired in 2001. What brought you to that decision?
It wasn't one that I came to. There wasn't a team that was interested in signing me anymore. That was a really challenging time for me. It would have been easier if I had an injury or I couldn't play anymore. It's just one year you're good enough to play and the next year you're not. I spent the next two years after my last season still preparing and training as if I was going to play, just hoping that someone got injured or there was some interest. It just never happened. At that point I realized, "OK, your career is over." When I realized it, I sat down for about 30 minutes and just cried because this was over. I asked myself, "What do I do with the rest of my life." It was kind of a scary moment for me.
It seems every season there are about four or five quarterbacks in that same position as you were. What's that like waiting to get one more chance?
There's no magical time when they say, "Yeah, you were good enough and now you're not"? You watch other players still playing and you think, "Gosh, I know I'm as good as that guy, so why is he different than me?" I think sometimes it's systems that you were in, like a lot of these West Coast offenses. Most quarterbacks tend to stick around with coaches who have the West Coast system. Some of it is the relationship you have with a coach who may have switched to a different team.
What were your plans after you retired?
I had that moment at first that was, "Gosh, things are over." But I realized, "You're young enough. You have the resources. You can do anything you want with the rest of your life, except for play football." That really changed my perspective on things and really got me thinking about what I wanted to do and what was my passion. I really started to get into land development. What it was for me is, I loved going to some farmer -- I lived in Florida -- and developing a relationship where you're in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt. We would talk about their land and finding the best use for it. Then I would put on a suit and talk to the county commissioners -- a completely different environment -- and then talk to engineers and land-planning firms. You have all these different types of people you have to pull together. I found I really enjoyed that process and the dynamics of being really simple and down home, and then having to dress up. And then creating something that was really cool.
You went into coaching in 2008 at your alma mater, Springville High School in Utah. What brought you to that?
The real estate business kind of changed. There was a rather abrupt stop to that. It was kind of funny. I got a phone call. I lived in this beautiful home (in Florida) on this beautiful lake and there was nice warm weather all the time. They said, "Hey, would you be interested in coming back to coach your high school?" And I said no. Then I hung up the phone and my wife said, "Who was that?" ... "It was my old high school and they wanted to know if I was interested in coming back and coaching." She said, "Yes! That's what we need to do!" I said, "Oh! OK! Let's go." I really had an amazing experience. And quite frankly I'm probably going to get back into coaching when I get done with ("The Biggest Loser").
Didn't you coach them to the playoffs twice while you were there?
Yeah. There's something just really satisfying about sharing your knowledge and insight with people and having them get it. It's great to watch (kids) grow and develop and succeed at something you taught them. That's really rewarding. I never thought I could replace the feeling of being a player on the field and the excitement of all of that. I really found that coaching was a pretty darn close second. There's just a lot of satisfaction and reward and excitement that I've gotten out of coaching.
The reason you're on "The Biggest Loser" is to get to a healthy weight again. What led you to appearing on the series?
I wasn't looking for it. It kind of happened by accident. I was driving to the spring football game at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City and I just happened to look (at a news story). It said if you're coming to Salt Lake, there's a lot of activity and there will be road closures. One of the events was an open audition for "The Biggest Loser" in which they were looking for former athletes -- high school, college or professional. When I read that I was like, "I need to do this." So I filled out an online application, sent it in on the computer, and then when we were done with the football game, I was going to go audition. I was with my family, and we went to the audition in the afternoon. Normally, they have lines around the block. It's a big deal. By the time I got there, there were eight people in line. I thought, "This is perfect." Then I just chickened out. I said I didn't want to do this. I've been in the public eye. I've taken criticism before. I'm just not ready to hear it. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of criticism for letting myself go. ... I drove off. Luckily for me, three weeks later (representatives from) "The Biggest Loser" called. They said, "We read your online application. We'd like to talk to you about being on the show." When they called, I had that same feeling: "You know what? I need to do this."
Was there an event that led you to this decision?
Really, what it got down to is that my dad passed away in January because of complications from diabetes -- and being overweight. He was 450 pounds when he died. I watched him over the last six years basically die a tortured, brutal death. He had amputations. He had all different kinds of infections that consumed his body for just being overweight. I was like Scrooge who saw the ghost of my Christmas future. That's where I was headed. And I decided I had to change. But decided I can't do this on my own. For the past 14 years since I retired my weight has just yo-yoed up and down. I had to eat a lot of humble pie -- which is actually fat free by the way -- and just admit, "As capable as you are Scott, you are not capable of handling this on your own and you need help."
How much did you weigh when filming began for this season?
When I started I didn't know. When I got on the scale here, in front of a national television audience, it was the first time I had been on scale in a long time and I weighed 366 pounds. That was a tough thing to see.
What has been your family's reaction to you making the decision to improve your health?
My wife's been on me about my weight. It's funny. I own a business now. My office is an hour or so depending on traffic from where I live. She'd make me a really healthy lunch in the morning. I would leave the house and ... I would head to a fast-food Mexican restaurant that would make these breakfast burritos that would weigh about five pounds. I'd eat my breakfast and then I would eat her lunch on my way to work. Then I would go to lunch at work. Then we had all sorts of snacks at my office. In breakfast alone, I was consuming 1,500 calories. Being on "The Biggest Loser," I consume 1,800 calories a day. I work out six-plus hours a day and I'm never hungry. It's just shocking to me how calorically I was eating. I had no idea. My family has been so thrilled that I had this experience. It's really been a life-changing event.
What were your goals as you go through this series?
Biggest thing they said to me was, "Going on this program, you'll lose the weight. You'll gain it all back unless you get to the bottom of why you're here and why you keep gaining weight." My goal was to find out why I gain weight. Then it was creating a platform to create a strong and healthy life when I leave here. My goal is not to lose weight, but five years from now to be at a healthy weight and be very active in my life.
And I've found that. I've found myself in this experience. I've found there was more to me than I realized. I found what a great life I have and what I'm actually fighting for is my life. I found a way to fight it and to recognize what I need to do in my life to really be happy and healthy.
For background, what is the lag time between the show and its airing?
We're still in production. I'm limited in what I can say about it. I can tell that I don't look anything like when I started. I can't wait until the show progresses, because things are different.
Both of you and fellow contestant Damien Woody are former NFL players. What have you shared with him about the going through this process?
Damien is a great guy. One of the most special things I didn't expect was the relationship with the other contestants. We're all very similar in our issues and our struggles. There's a lot of camaraderie, a lot of empathy. But it's a special bond that happens.
One of the things that (Damien and I) talk a lot about is that you can never show any sign of weakness in the NFL. You always have to be strong. You always have to be tough. You know, suck it up. On top of it, you feel super-human. You feel capable of doing anything. ... Then you realize in order to tackle this, it takes vulnerability. It takes admitting that I need help. It takes unwinding your emotions and actually talking about it.
One of the things I thought I would never do here is talk about my emotions, to talk about my life, to talk about the pain in my life -- and to cry. I've cried considerably on the show. It's been a great thing for me. It's just funny. We had a conversation not long ago about this whole experience about being in touch with your emotions and really unwinding emotions and understanding how certain events in your life have really affected you and you didn't realize it.
What advice would you have for retiring NFL players to live healthier?
When I retired, I accepted that I'm going to miss football and not try to suppress that. ... I miss it every day. It is part of another conversation Damien and I have had. I've been out of the league 14 years and he's been out of the league three. I said, "Look it doesn't get any easier. I still miss it. You will continue to miss it." I just embraced that because it was just a great experience. It was such a unique thing to say you were a part of.
The other thing that I've found that has been really helpful is how I had focused so much on the disappointment and failures and the sad things in my life. ... What I have found is joy in my life. My joy actually comes from my failures. I'd never appreciate winning if I never lost. When I recognized the greater sorrow and suffering I've had in my life, the greater joy I found I was capable of having. Embracing both of those things and realizing they're important to my life, that's when it really changed here for me. I started to look around at what makes me happy. I recognized that there was so much that I just really find joy in.
Photos courtesy of NBC.