The name "Mean Green," still in use after 53 years, was adopted by fans and media in 1966 for a North Texas football defensive squad that finished the season second in the nation against the rush. That school year, Joe Greene, then a sophomore at North Texas, played left defensive tackle on the football team and competed in track and field (shot put). The nickname "Mean Joe Greene" caught-on during his first year with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 when the fan base mistakenly assumed that "Mean Green" was derived from a nickname they thought he had inherited while at North Texas. The athletic department, media, and fans loved the novelty of a young standout's surname being a homophone of the university's school color. By 1968, "Mean Green" was on the back of shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, and the cover of the North Texas football brochure. Even the band became identified as the "Mean Green Marching Machine."
The school's colors are green and white. The music for the alma mater, "Glory to the Green and White," (originally titled "Our College") was composed by Julia Smith in 1919 and adopted by the school in 1922. The lyrics are were written by Charles Langford, then a third-year letterman on the football team. The school's fight song, Fight, North Texas, composed by Francis Stroup, was adopted in 1939. The school mascot is an eagle named Scrappy.
Since 1973, the school's teams for men's and women's basketball have played their home games in the Super Pit. From 2001 to 2012, the men's team experienced relative success under head coach Johnny Jones. During the 2006-2007 season, North Texas won its first Sun Belt Conference title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1988. North Texas won the Sun Belt Conference title a second time during the 2009-2010 season to advance to the NCAA Tournament for the second time in four years.
The school's football team plays its home games at Apogee Stadium. The men's and women's basketball programs play at the UNT Coliseum. Many of the school's athletic facilities are located at the Mean Green Village, which opened for the 2006-07 athletic season. The athletic village area includes: