Mean Joe credits math teacher/coach for instilling sense of responsibility
By Bill Hart / Abilene Reporter-News

Mean Joe Greene became one of the top defensive linemen in the National Football League, but give a lot of credit to his junior high math teacher who was also his coach.

Coach (Curtis) Elliott taught me responsibility, said Greene, who attended a banquet last Saturday in Grand Prairie honoring the Texas Football Magazine's all-time Texas high school team since 1960 when the magazine was established.

He taught me that I had to make passing grades before I could ever get on the team. He said that you had to do things you didn't like to get to do the things you wanted to do.

Greene weighed over 210 pounds as a freshman at Temple Dunbar High School, but by the time he graduated, he was up to 240 pounds.

This was back in the 1960s before every Texas town had integrated, so not many college coaches tried to recruit him.

I got a letter from Texas A&I (now Texas A&M-Kingsville) and the University of Houston, but the only schools I visited were A&I and North Texas, he recalled. I was invited to visit the University of Houston, but that trip fell on prom night and that was more important to me than the visit.

Greene had written a letter to the North Texas coaches about playing football for them and they issued an invitation.

I went to the restroom before I met the coaches and cut off the sleeves on my T-shirt, then did 20 pushups to pump up my muscles, he said and laughed. When the coaches saw me, they felt I was big enough to play for them and they offered a scholarship.

Greene said he didn't think about a professional football career until his junior year and only then when he read where Dick Butkus had signed a contract for $50,000 to play linebacker for the Chicago Bears.

Until then I had planned to be a coach, but a teacher told me that if I got my degree, I could make $6,000 as a teacher, he said. Now, I knew a little math -- thanks to coach Elliott -- and I knew $50,000 was a lot more money than $6,000, so I changed my idea about teaching to playing pro ball.

And what a career he had with Pittsburgh as a key member of the famed Steel Curtain, the Steelers' front four defensive line. He has four Super Bowl rings and made all-pro 10 times to earn a spot in the National Football League Hall of Fame.

No ring is more important than the other, Greene said. You have to win the first to get the second and once you become a champion, it is difficult to repeat because everyone is after you and every game is a championship game.

But the victories over the Dallas Cowboys were special to him and he discounts the theory that had end Jackie Smith not dropped a pass in the end zone in the 1979 Super Bowl, Dallas would have won the game.

The pass was low and a little behind him, but had Smith caught the ball, that would have just tied the score, Greene said. We were going to win the game anyway because we were the better team. We executed better than they did, all they had were excuses. It was cut and dry, we were better.

There is no telling where Greene would have gone to college or how many offers he would have received had he gone to an integrated high school, but he doesn't complain.

We played our games at Wildcat Stadium (in Temple), but I never remember us going into the locker room at halftime, he said. We'd go to the end zone and watch the halftime show. That was the only time I ever left the playing field.

I have been very fortunate to have gone to schools that needed me and helped me grow as a football player and a person. I made many friendships at North Texas and that's where I met my wife. During my career there, our team lost only five games. It was our group that turned their program around.

Jerry Levias went to SMU the same year I went to North Texas, and John Westbrook had gone to Baylor the year before as the first black football player in the Southwest Conference. North Texas had signed Abner Haynes many years before and Carl Lockhart had played there, so I wasn't the school's first black.

Greene finally became a coach, but as an assistant with the Arizona Cardinals, he's making more than $6,000. He still knows his math.