Those who knew him well simply referred to him as “Harbs.”
Matt Harbilas was found dead Monday morning, just weeks after his 32nd birthday.
As of Monday evening, there were no details on his cause of death.
Harbilas was a 2006 graduate of Norwalk High where he was named to the All-FCIAC Central team as a left-handed pitcher and first baseman his senior year.
After attending Southern Connecticut, he returned to Norwalk as an assistant baseball coach under Pete Tucci from 2009-2018 and as an assistant football coach for Sean Ireland. He also took over as the head coach of the Norwalk Senior American Legion team.
He took a job teaching social studies at Stamford High where he was also an assistant girls soccer coach for the 2015 and 2016 seasons.
He was often on the sidelines of both Norwalk and Stamford games, working as crowd control, running the scoreboard or doing the official book.
Last spring, he was supposed to join the baseball coaching staff at McMahon as the pitching coach for his lifelong friend Steve Buckett, but due to the pandemic, the season never took place.
Buckett took over as McMahon’s coach last season and has yet to coach a game, but he knew he wanted Harbilas to be on his coaching staff.
“It’s really hard to digest. I am in complete shock,” Buckett said. “He was the most genuine, tell it like it is guy around. He was also the nicest guy in the world, almost to a fault, but if he didn’t like something you were doing, he would let you know right away. Norwalk baseball meant so much to him. That’s what shaped him in to the person he was.”
Harbilas and Buckett grew up together in Norwalk, playing in the Cranberry League as teammates when they were 6-years old before becoming opponents when Buckett went to McMahon and Harbilas to Norwalk.
After high school, the two were roommates at Southern Connecticut, then later worked together at Stamford.
Buckett and Harbilas were so close that Harbilas was scheduled to be in Buckett’s wedding party in two weeks.
Pete Tucci was an assistant coach for Angelo Bruno when Harbilas was in high school. He later hired Harbilas as his assistant coach for the final seven years Tucci was at the helm of the Bears.
“For me, it is like I lost someone in my family. Harbs was always there, always loyal,” Tucci said. “He was a good pitcher, good first baseman, line-drive hitter, but what always impressed me was his knowledge of the game. He was truly a student of the game and that’s why I hired him when I came back to Norwalk as head coach. All the kids loved him. Harbs was just Harbs and the kids always responded so well to him.”
Tucci said Harbilas’ dream was to one day be a head coach of a varsity baseball program.
“That was his goal, to be a head coach in high school,” Tucci said. “It breaks my heart he didn’t get to do it. What a great guy though. Gone way too young.”
Harbilas was at Norwalk when Chris Passamano was hired as a non-Norwalk native to be the freshmen baseball coach and then at Stamford when Passamano was hired as a non-Stamford native to be athletic director.
While Passamano was met with some hostility at both jobs, it was Harbilas who was always looking out for him.
“Harbs immediately made me feel welcome at Norwalk. He was always there and always had my back,” Passamano said. “When I got to Stamford, there were some people who were unhappy about me getting the job. Harbs was at my office door once a day, literally every day of my first year checking in to see how I was doing. It sounds crazy because I’m 46 and he was 32, but he played a bit of a big brother role for me despite me being significantly older than him.”
Passamano said Harbilas had one goal in mind as a coach and teacher.
“Harbs cared about all the kids beyond the diamond,” Passamano said. “He knew what was going on with them in school and in life. He was a really genuine dude. You always knew where you stood with Matt. If he was your friend, he was as loyal of a friend as you could have.”
Though he was not working at Norwalk High this year, he had a lifetime of friends and acquaintances at the school, which was rocked by the news of his death.
“People over here are devastated,” Norwalk athletic director Doug Marchetti said. “We have a large number of staff who are local and they all traveled in similar circles, even if they are not all the same age. There are a lot of connections. People either knew Matt from baseball or they played golf or softball with him or just knew him growing up in Norwalk. He was a great guy and we are all in shock. I would see him every day during baseball season and talk to him. He was a super guy. Whenever I needed someone to do crowd control at a football game or another event, he was always the first to volunteer.”
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