Those who can't do, teach. Whoever originated that axiom certainly did not account for UC Irvine baseball coaching staff, which is stacked with former All-Americans and led by a man whose highlights include winning an NCAA championship as a player before he did so as a head coach.
Second-year pitching coach Daniel Bibona and first-year assistant Ben Orloff were already storied names in Anteaters lore, before they once again slipped on the UCI jersey as coaches. But Bibona and Orloff, along with Hall of Fame head coach Mike Gillespie, seventh-year assistant Bob Macaluso and Director of Operations Eric Deragisch, another former UCI standout in his fourth season on the staff, are deserving of praise for helping the 'Eaters earn the program's second trip to the College World Series. It's UCI's first visit to Omaha since Bibona and Orloff were underclassmen on the 2007 team that finished fourth at the "Greatest Show on Dirt."
Bibona was twice named Big West Conference Pitcher of the Year, won the Lowe's Senior Class Award, was an All-American and was drafted in the eighth round by the St. Louis Cardinals. A lefty who is UCI's career leader in strikeouts after a four-year career that ended in 2010, Bibona's brief pro career was halted by arm surgery.
Orloff was the Big West Player of the Year and won the Brooks Wallace Award that goes to the nation's top shortstop as a senior in 2009. A four-year starter, he is the program's career leader in hits (281), runs (178), at-bats (877), games played (241). He was drafted in the ninth round by the Houston Astros and made it to Double-A, before retiring midway through his 2013 season to join the UCI staff.
Both Orloff and Bibona helped UCI reach the postseason all four years they were here. Both UCI graduates, they are sterling representatives as coaches of both the school and the program now led by Gillespie, who was the starting left fielder on USC's NCAA championship team in 1962 and later guided the Trojans to five CWS appearances, including a national title in 1998.
"It's surreal," Orloff said of the surprising postseason run that followed losing the team's last eight conference games, it's last six regular-season games. UCI, one of the last four admitted to the 64-team field, then upset No. 1 national seed Oregon State to win the Corvallis Regional. UCI then swept host Oklahoma State in the Super Regional that ended Sunday.
"It's awesome," Orloff said. "It's still setting in that we're going to Omaha. The guys did a great job. To see where we started [preseason expectations were the lowest in a decade] then to get here is just crazy."
Bibona expressed similar joy about a return to Omaha.
"I'm excited," Bibona said. "I'm excited to see the new facilities [UCI played at historic Rosenblatt Stadium in 2007]. It's a special place. Every year, you start out the season by saying Omaha, Omaha, Omaha. For a lot of guys, it's sort of like never-never land. Some people wonder if they'll ever get there."
Bibona, a volunteer who works with a staff that has posted a 2.76 earned-run average and includes All-Americans Andrew Morales and Sam Moore, as well as emerging sophomore standout Elliot Surrey, said the experience was redemptive after his initial campaign in 2013 extended a two-season absence from the postseason. That two-year lull halted a run of six straight regional appearances that included three regional championships.
"Coming back last year and the program didn't make the regional … I couldn't really comprehend that," Bibona, a Newport Beach resident, said. "We've talked to the players about what it was like for us [as players] and what it was like to win so many games. We didn't lose much."
Orloff, who also resides in Newport Beach, was also intent on restoring the program's reputation after a two-year dip that followed a dramatic ninth-inning rally by host Virginia to defeat UCI in a 2011 Super Regional.
"I always tell our kids that when Danny and I were here, the school averaged 44 and 45 wins a year," said Orloff, who works with the infielders, coordinates recruiting, positions the defense, instructs hitting, and is the third-base coach. "That's what this place should be. We have no excuse not to be a postseason contender, contending for Super Regionals, contending to go to Omaha and winning Big West championships.
"We don't like talking about ourselves too much, but the way for this program to take the next step was to get better every day. You have to set high standards and the last two years wasn't good enough. We have to hold ourselves to more than that, because we want to achieve more than that."
Bibona and Orloff both said their love for the program translates into a passion and pride that fuels them every day in their new positions.
"It's a blast," Orloff said. "This place is home. Since I came here in 2005 [out of Simi Valley High], I've lived here every offseason. When I was playing, I worked out here, in the weight room and on the field. When we go to coaches meetings, we're friends with all the other coaches here. And we know our academic people, our strength coaches, and most of the staff."
Bibona said he can relate his UCI experience to recruits without reservation.
"When I talk to a recruit, I don't have to make something up," Bibona said. "We were here and we did it, so we aren't just blowing smoke. We loved it here and that's why we're back. I tell guys that if they come here, they are going to play on a sweet field every day, live in Newport with good teammates who are guys that will be in their wedding, or the godfather of their kids. They will have a lifelong bond with those guys. It's not like they just come, play three of four years then say 'We'll see you.' We love being here for alumni games and seeing all those guys come back. Even the older guys are welcomed into the fraternity."
Orloff, who calls Bibona one of his best friends, said working with one another as coaches has strengthened their bond, as well as their love for the program.
"We get to hang out every day on the field, just like we used to," Orloff said. "We talk about the game and we are both trying to figure out how to become better teachers of the game. We are passionate and we are invested. Our friends [and former teammates] are calling us up all the time asking us what is going on over here and if we're going to win. We want this program to be good."
The feedback from fellow alumni and former players intensified greatly via social media platforms the last two weeks, Orloff said.
"A lot of the guys from the 2007 team have booked flights to come out to Omaha to watch us play," Orloff said. "Every game, we have a message thread with between 120 and 175 messages. The guys are living and dying with every pitch."