Influencing every player he has worked with, Gene Orlando has been an addition to the Michigan State athletic staff for 28 seasons. Orlando picked up tennis as a sport at a young age, and has been in love with it ever since.
Before getting into tennis, he played basketball and baseball. He first learned about the sport after watching his babysitters play on the days he spent time with them.
“They were going to tennis lessons and I kind of was watching from the outside and one of the instructors said, ‘Hey, would you like to play?’ This was when I was about 10 years old,” Orlando said. “I said ‘Yeah sure, I’ll try’ and I fell in love with the game right then and there.”
He played tennis at the collegiate level at Ball State University, and made an appearance in the NCAA championships his senior year.
Ball State men’s tennis coach Bill Richards recommended Orlando for the head coach job at Bowling Green State University. After three seasons of coaching at Bowling Green, Orlando was excited to get started with a Big Ten team.
“You don’t get to be a Big Ten coach just by signing up,” Orlando said. “I played college tennis at Ball State and I was fortunate to play on a team that had a lot success. ... It’s good to have people behind your corner, and I was fortunate to get a job at Bowling Green at a young age thanks to Coach Bill Richards.”
Starting out, Orlando said he had to learn on the job how to be a better coach. From there he learned about recruiting, fundraising and mentoring the athletes he trained in past years. In his multiple seasons in the Big Ten, he sees this as a chance to play the best teams in the country and believes that everyone looks forward to an opportunity similar to his.
Orlando took his career a step further coaching wheelchair tennis, and what inspired him most about the kids was their love for the game and how hard they worked. Orlando is trying to promote the activity to more individuals.
“The former coach here at Michigan State had this wheelchair program going before I got here,” Orlando said. “Coach asked me if I would take it over for him because he was getting a little bit older and it was time for him to move on. I told him, ‘Sure, I’ll do it’ ... because he was a legend. ... It just became something that I wanted to do ... we even traveled to a few tournaments with them and it’s been something I’ve been trying to promote and make it even bigger than it is.”
As Orlando continues his 28th season, he reflects on his time here at MSU and everything his teams have accomplished. From leading the Spartans to a university-first NCAA Tournament during the 2012-13 season to guiding each player to be the best they can be, his 28 years as head coach have been successful ones.
“It’s been a great journey and I’ve enjoyed every year, especially the opportunity to work with young boys and see them grow up to be men,” Orlando said. “My goals for my team are for them to give 100 percent, give everything they got, and represent the program professionally both on and off the court."
“The biggest influence I can have is give them the opportunities, and with hard work you can accomplish anything you put your mind to. ... Obviously, wins are always great, but sometimes the biggest win is seeing each player reach their goals and accomplish things they didn’t think were possible.”