Joe Breen began his football career at Humberside Collegiate Institute in Toronto, which he attended from 1909-13. In 1914 he began his degree in civil engineering at the University of Toronto where he made a name for himself playing football. After serving overseas with the Royal Canadian Engineers from 1916-19 he returned as captain to his team. In 1920 Breen led the University of Toronto Blues to a Grey Cup victory over the Toronto Argonauts. He then joined the Toronto Parkdale Canoe Club team, remaining there from 1921-23, and serving as captain during the 1922 and 1923 seasons. In 1924 Breen joined the Toronto Argonauts as captain, retiring from play in 1925 due to a bad knee which also prevented him from playing baseball in which he also had a very promising career.
In 1929 Western was in need of a new head coach and Frank Shaughnessy (McGill University’s head coach) recommended Breen for the position. Western's presidential report for the 1929-30 academic year noted “The University was fortunate in being able to secure as coach Mr. Joe Breen, who combines in a high degree the qualities of character, intelligence, vigor and athletic experience that an ideal university coach should possess.” Breen spent five seasons with the Mustangs, serving as the first senior team coach and leading Western to its first senior intercollegiate championship in 1931.
In 1934, Breen, who worked for the Canada Cement Company, was promoted and moved to Montreal. From 1935-40 Breen served as a referee in the Big Four League (pre-CFL) whilst slowly gaining seniority at the Canada Cement Company, eventually being named president and general manager in 1949. In 1963 Breen was honored as one of the first inductees into the Canadian Football Hall of Fame, following which he served on its selection committee until his death in 1978. Breen was also honored by induction into the Canada Sports Hall of Fame in 1975.