Gonzaga baseball’s pitching coach, Brandon Harmon, started the season wearing his baseball pants down long for games. But after the Zags opened the year on a three-game skid, he decided to go back to what he usually wears, which is short pants with stirrups.
“I told our equipment guy that I wanted to go back to the short pants and stirrups, and then we immediately won our next game,” said Harmon — or Harm, as his players generally refer to him.
Simply put, Harmon said he finds the most success when he stays true to himself. Not just when it comes to sticking with superstitious habits that appeared to jump start the Zags’ season, but in aspects of his life and career, which have benefited him and those he’s coached.
Harmon has consistently sent Zag pitchers past collegiate baseball to the professional level. In his three years as pitching coach at GU, Harmon has helped five Bulldog pitchers get drafted and signed, most recently in 2018, when Daniel Bies was drafted by the New York Yankees in the seventh round.
“I definitely wouldn’t be where I am now if it wasn’t for Coach Harm,” said Bies, who is entering his first spring in the Yankees’ minor league system. “There’s not just one thing that he teaches well, which helps his pitchers. It’s more of a culmination of all these skills that he teaches so well.”
His formula is understanding there isn’t just one answer.
“I’ve got 15 guys on my staff,” Harmon said. “That means that every year, I should have 15 different pitching styles and personalities.”
He understands pitching is a unique position in sports, in that the same success can be found with different approaches. Instead of creating one specific mold that all of his pitchers have to fit into, he is more fluid and accommodating with his players.
Sophomore pitcher Alek Jacob has found success this season, including being named West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Week on Monday. He utilizes an uncanny throwing motion and arm slot.
“I’m a sidearm guy and Coach Harmon has dealt with sidearm guys in the past, so I was confident he knew how to work with that stuff,” Jacob said. “And that’s when I knew that he was who I wanted to work with for four years.”
But Jacob isn’t the only pitcher who has found success this season in part thanks to Coach Harmon.
Junior Casey Legumina, a projected early round draft pick in this spring’s MLB draft, has had a phenomenal year, holding a 2-0 record while posting a 1.50 ERA.
When guys like Legumina took time off for injuries, freshman Mason Wells has stepped up and turned in a solid season.
All of these guys are unique in how they go about their business on the mound, Harmon said. But he makes sure however they approach it, they do it to the best of their ability.
“Something that coach [Harmon] preaches to us day in and day out is to be the best version of you. Don’t be somebody else,” Jacob said. “If I’m being the best version of me, then I can expect to give 100 percent and get the best result.”
He makes an effort to get to know his pitchers on an in-depth level — more than just how they’re performing in a game. He wants to know how they’re all feeling, both mentally and physically, and which routines and drills each pitcher feels like benefits them the most.
“My favorite thing about his coaching technique is that he approaches it as a player,” Bies said. “He’s always learning and improving upon himself, and through that, he’s able to continuously find new ways to get the most out of us.”
Harmon said he knows how to improve his coaching methods like a player would, because he was once an athlete here in Spokane.
He grew up playing baseball in the city and then played for GU from 2005 to 2008. During that time, he played under current head coach Mark Machtolf, which Harmon said was vital toward his coaching experience at the university. It helped him to grasp a better understanding of what makes Machtolf so successful.
After receiving a degree in sports management and a master’s in sports and athletic administration, Harmon extended his playing career for a few years. Then, he came back in 2011 and worked as the pitching coach and recruiting coordinator up north at Division III Whitworth University. Following two years at Whitworth, Harmon received a call from his alma mater, asking if he would like to join the staff as a volunteer assistant coach.
Harmon said he gladly took the position, knowing the ultimate goal would be worth it. As a volunteer who wasn’t getting paid, Harmon had to find other avenues to make money for his family. So, he continued to insert himself into the community, coaching the Spokane Expos, a high school-level club baseball team, and running pitching clinics for young, aspiring pitchers in the offseason.
“I take a lot of pride in the fact that we’re trying to do something special in my hometown and supporting baseball in the local area,” Harmon said.
Before the 2016 season, Harmon was promoted to pitching coach.
Through and through, it’s been Harmon’s ability to remain authentic that has led him from playing high school baseball in Spokane to becoming the coach he is today. Maybe it’s the personal mantra he preaches to his pitching staff that has helped him the most: always be the best version of yourself you can be.
Asher Ali is a staff writer.