Joe Greene

The football legend and UNT alumnus long ago cemented his status as an NFL great. But his reputation looms even larger on campus, where he's made a lasting impact.
Written by: 
Meredith Moriak Wright

FL legend Joe Greene got his start on the football field at North Texas nearly 55 years ago. Selected No. 4 overall in the 1969 NFL Draft, Greene played 13 seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers and is considered the most dominant defensive lineman in NFL history. His connection to UNT has never wavered, and in 2018, he was honored with a statue outside Apogee Stadium. This August, 580 students moved into UNT's newest building -- Joe Greene Hall.

Joe Greene, when he was a member of the Mean Green football team
Joe Greene, when he was a member of the Mean Green football team. This photo was the inspiration for his statue at Apogee Stadium's Gate 2.

Why did you choose UNT?

When I graduated from high school in 1965, in Temple, Texas, I received offers to visit Texas A&I in Kingsville, Prairie View and New Mexico State in Las Cruces. But, I wrote a letter to North Texas because I had read in the catalog about Abner Haynes, an African American student who played football there. He was a fantastic player and he started playing pro football. The school invited me to visit, and when I did, Coach Fred McCain and Coach Odus Mitchell were very friendly. I went to the coaches office but the door was closed. I peeked through a small window in the door and saw the coaches in there, desks lined up. I had a flash and went to the men's room and did about 15 push-ups -- that was about my limit. I was probably 6 foot, 3 inches, and around 235 pounds. When I walked in, they all stood up and offered me a scholarship on the spot. They hadn't seen anyone on our campus that was big like me. Every weekend or so after, Coach McCain or Coach Bob Way visited me in Temple.

Your birthname was Charles Edward. Where did the name Joe come from?

I was a big baby. I was born in 1946 and during that time, Joe Lewis was the world heavyweight boxing champ. Somebody said I reminded them of him, so they called me Joe.

What was it like the first time you met Abner Haynes?

It was really, really special. He had established himself in the American Football League. When you're from Temple, you don't meet many pro football players. To know he was a former North Texas player was very neat. I hadn't given playing pro football any major thoughts. But I started to see more and more guys come through who had played at North Texas -- Spider Lockhart, Bobby Smith. That got me thinking: Maybe I could do that, too.

Follow your dreams. Commit yourself. You're going to need some help, but you have to put yourself in a position to receive the help and take advantage of the help. That's following your dreams. We all need help.
Joe Greene

How did you meet your late wife, Agnes?

I met her my second year at North Texas. I lived in the Quads -- there was one dorm on each corner with the cafeteria in the center of it. Two housed women and two housed men, one predominantly for athletes and the other for non-athletes. Agnes ('73) lived in the Quads, too. We met in the cafeteria. (Some of the buildings still exist today as Bain Hall and two music practice buildings.) We have three kids together. My oldest son, Charles Major ('91), was born while we were at North Texas, and he and my son, Edward Delon ('93), both graduated from North Texas.

How does Agnes' memorial scholarship fund honor her legacy?

Major started the Greene Family Foundation along with Delon and my daughter, Joquel, to honor their mother after she died of breast cancer in 2016. I'm just along for the support. The UNT Agnes Lucille Craft Greene Scholarship helps young students whose families have experienced the difficulty of dealing with cancer. She would be so happy about the fund and its purpose and really, really thrilled about her children doing that for her. I am pleased, modestly, that we could give back a little bit.

How has the campus transformed since you were a student in 1965?

It's a joy to see how much it's changed. One of my favorite spots was between the old biology building and the English building. There was a bench at a pond and some vegetation. It was a really nice place to sit, talk and reminisce. I'm excited about North Texas' present and future, too. The new facilities, the new athletic facilities, the direction of the athletic programs, all of the resources they have made available to the athletes and the students -- that's forward thinking.

You had an impressive career in the NFL, both as a player and as an assistant coach. What memories rise above them all?

So many moments stand out. Without a doubt, one was in 2000, when Dan Rooney, the son of the founder of the Pittsburgh Steelers, was being inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame and he asked me to be his presenter. He had so many people he could've asked, from the commissioner to owners of pro teams, his son, his brother, a multitude of former players or civic leaders in the city. But he chose me.

Also, Nov. 2, 2014, at a Steelers football game, when they retired No. 75. My wife and kids were there, and the Steelers had only retired one other number prior to that, and that was back in the 1960s. And I remember when I first went to Pittsburgh and we won one game in that first year. It was terrible. Our facility was in the basement of a first-aid building at the County Fair. It was bad, and we were bad. But we, the team, transformed from that first year in 1969 to winning four Super Bowls from 1975 to 1980. I want to be remembered for playing 13 years and contributing to four championship teams. I would like to be remembered for maybe setting a standard for others to achieve.

How exciting has it been to watch the Mean Green football team's transformation during the last couple of seasons?

There is nothing like campus life and spirit, supporting the winning program. It's electric and a good thing. That's what we all want to be able to do, cheer a winning program. I see effort is there. The interest is there. The drive and the will is there. With the right people being involved, it becomes infectious.




Joe Greene Fast Facts

  1. He was a first-round NFL draft pick who played defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969 to 1981 – the centerpiece of the Steel Curtain.
  2. He was Defensive Rookie of the Year and twice Defensive Player of the Year, has six NFL champion­ship rings (four as a player), was named to 10 Pro Bowls, and is in the UNT, college and pro football halls of fame.
  3. He received the UNT Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1976 and was a regent from 1983 to 1987.
Ribbon cutting for Joe Greene Hall

What honor presented by North Texas has had the greatest impact on you?

Being named to the Board of Regents, that was special. I was 35 and the first African American regent. It was very, very big in terms of my appreciation for North Texas and it put me in a position to really give back and help. But each honor is a new and rewarding experience -- the statue unveiling at Apogee Stadium last fall, and then a new residence hall with my name on it. I guess it means that over my time, since 1965, I probably have done some things that weren't too bad.

What do you want the students living in Joe Greene Hall to know?

Follow your dreams. Commit yourself. You're going to need some help, but you have to put yourself in a position to receive the help and take advantage of the help. That's following your dreams. We all need help.

It's been a big year, with the reveal of the statue and the residence hall naming. What was your reaction?

I felt tremendously honored and humbled by it all. I felt like, "Gee, Joe. How do I live up to this? It's huge." I guess, bottom line, I have to pass it all around and make some sense of it. I'm thankful. Thank you, thank you, thank you, North Texas. That's the best way to respond.

Continue Reading