Jon Pearlman is a conversational Usain Bolt who can go from soccer to science to finance in 9.4 seconds.
You cannot hope to take legible notes in an interview with Jon Pearlman, the son of a vascular surgeon from New York City. If your tape recorder doesn’t have a “slow” button, all you hear is “IdroppedoutofUALawSchooltobecomeasoccercoach. …”
It’s like using a laptop without a space bar.
“My brother Michael was in the sitcom ‘Charles in Charge,’” he says.
“Rick Schantz absolutely killed it as the head coach of FC Tucson.”
“Some people say I’m like the Will Ferrell character, Jackie Moon, who was a player, coach and GM in the movie ‘Semi-Pro.’”
“I didn’t take up soccer until I was 16. Before that I had been a tournament-level tennis player who spent time at the Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida.”
A few days ago, FC Tucson announced that Pearlman will become head coach of the club’s Premier Development League team, and I thought there must be some mistake.
He’s already executive director (and a coach) of Tucson’s 1,300-member Tanque Verde Soccer Academy, the largest of its kind in Southern Arizona. He’s FC Tucson’s general manager, with oversight for marketing, concessions and media relations. He is a scout for the U.S. Soccer Team’s youth divisions. He rarely takes a break from his role as recruiting/personnel director of FC Tucson, and in the middle of six weeks of the FC Tucson-created MLS spring training, he agreed to drop the first puck at a Tucson Roadrunners game.
“I would do this for nothing,” he says.
On Wednesday, Pearlman spent the morning working logistics and doing some delicate scheduling changes for the MLS’ New York Red Bulls, who are quartered in Oro Valley. His afternoon was booked with details leading to the Feb. 18 Desert Diamond Cup matches at the Kino Sports Complex. His early evening required him to coach one of his TVSC teams, and he vowed to be in his seat at McKale Center for a late-night Arizona-Stanford basketball game.
“I got my wife Shannon’s blessing before I took on this head coaching role,” he says. “But you know what? I’m tireless. I won’t stop.”
Jon Pearlman turns 43 this month, and he is not the same man who made Tucson headlines when he coached Sabino High School’s boys soccer team to the 2005 state championship (while teaching at St. Ambrose School and helping Shannon raise three young children.)
Now he doesn’t have room on his plate for an extra pea.
“Jon is honest, amazingly hard-working and devoted to the sport and to kids,” says Tucson attorney Ted Schmidt, who has been an administrative leader for the Tucson Soccer Academy, the Arizona Youth Soccer Association and the Pima County Junior Soccer League.
“He knows what he is doing and does it well. My only concern for him taking on the coaching responsibility at FC Tucson is that I don’t know how he can continue to perform at his elite level considering there are not 48 hours in a day. That said, if anyone can do it, Jon can.”
Pearlman grew up in Goshen, N.Y., about 50 miles northwest of New York City and ultimately became a soccer team captain of the Division III Union College Dutchmen. Even as a young man, he was hands-on and then some.
He showed up at coach Aldo Nardiello’s office with a three-page manifesto on how the team could be operated more efficiently. After his years as a Dutchman, he was supposed to grow up and get a job. He relocated to Tucson to attend UA law school; his grandfather, Ben Bluementhal, had moved to Tucson decades earlier as a mechanic.
Those law school plans took a detour when Pearlman realized “I knew it wasn’t my calling.”
He got a job assisting Sabino’s 1995 state championship coach Ronnie Fox, earned a teaching certificate at the UA and began a life in soccer.
After two decades in Tucson, he has become an overnight success.
FC Tucson is an impressive organization, started from scratch and operated by Greg Foster, Schantz and Pearlman. They didn’t become a mainstream MLS spring training site, or the PDL Western Conference finalists, by pushing away new ideas.
They examined possible head coaches from all levels of America’s soccer map before deciding that Pearlman was the man to replace Schantz.
“This isn’t a vanity job,” he says. “If I don’t do well, I’ll fire myself.”
Last weekend, 4,064 people overflowed the Kino Sports Complex to watch the Seattle Sounders and Portland Timbers, passionate MLS rivals, play to a 1-1 tie.
Pearlman soaked it in.
“When we started this venture, this is what we dreamed about,” he says. “Now we need to take it to another level.”