Illini Legends, Lists and Lore: Gene Kenney
Illini Legends, Lists & Lore
Celebrating his 86th birthday Thursday is former Illini wrestler Gene Kenney.
Born and raised in Urbana, he’s the son of legendary wrestling coach Harold “Hek” Kenney, namesake of Kenney Gym on Springfield Avenue.
Gene was a 1950 letter winner and graduated that year.
He got his first job at the University of North Carolina as an assistant wrestling coach.
Kenney received his first experience in coaching collegiate soccer when the Tar Heels’ head soccer coach became ill.
He then spent two years in Korea as an Army officer, where he coached several service soccer teams.
After service in the armed forces, he got a job at Michigan State, initially coaching wrestling and teaching physical education.
When MSU’s club soccer team achieved varsity status in 1956, Spartans athletic director Biggie Munn named Kenney as the squad’s head coach.
At one stretch during Gene’s 14 years with MSU soccer, the Green and White competed in eight straight NCAA championship tournaments (1962-69).
His ’64 and ’65 teams took second place to Saint Louis University and captured co-championships in ’66 and ‘67.
Kenney was named National Collegiate Soccer Coach of the Year that latter season.
Through 14 years, his teams compiled a 120-13-13 record, a career winning percentage of .866, second best in NCAA history.
Munn named Kenney assistant athletics director for facilities in 1970, and Gene served in that role for five MSU athletic directors.
During his tenure, he oversaw the construction of Munn Ice Arena and the Breslin Student Event Center.
He also founded and directed the Summer Sports School, the nation’s first of its kind.
Kenney retired from MSU in 1994 and, 11 years later, was inducted into Michigan State’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Today: Ken Kolar, football (59)
Monday: Dan Lundine, baseball (42)
Tuesday: John Fillipan, baseball (57)
Wednesday: Larry Sutton, baseball (44)
Thursday: Vanessa DiBernardo, soccer (22)
Friday: Blandon Ferguson, basketball (33)
Saturday: Jeff Finke, football (46)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore
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