By Matt Wall
After half of a semester, Jon Pearlman walked out of his Civil Procedure class at the UA James Rogers College of Law.
“I realized I didn’t care and I walked out,” Pearlman said. “That was the end of law school. I knew it wasn’t for me.”
Soccer, on the other hand, was.
The recently named FC Tucson head coach has become a staple in the Tucson soccer community. The Goshen, New York native grew up on the East coast before moving out West to become a soccer coach.
“When I lived there, there were two or three traffic lights and 25,000 people,” Pearlman said. “Athletically, I was fortunate enough to be able play sports in a community that gave full support to all of their local teams.”
He fell in love with the sport of soccer, watching AC Milan on the Italian channel, growing up wanting to be striker Marco van Basten. While his playing career was met with its ups and downs, his knowledge for the game is what sets him apart from others in the sport.
“His IQ for the game is top notch,” Real Salt Lake forward Ricardo Velazco said. “That’s what differentiates him from other coaches.”
Pearlman is the type of person that commands a room when he walks through the door. A man who is known to be able to fit 36 hours of work in a 24-hour day. A man who has served as the general manager, technical director, media director, and now head coach of the franchise he helped create.
“There’s no question there that he’s going to outwork everyone else,” Orlando City SC defender Donny Toia said. “Now that he’s a head coach, he’s got a vision. He’s going to do as much as possible to accomplish that vision moving forward. He knows what he wants from his players and he’s going to demand that. He’s nothing but a positive thing for FC Tucson.”
Pearlman’s humor is one of a kind. It stems from his father, who was the head surgeon at the local hospital. He can quote any movie you ask in a matter of moments.
“It’s one of a kind sense of humor, let’s put it that way,” Toia said. “He’s got jokes up his sleeve and you never know when he’s gonna tell you a joke or story. There was never a dull moment.”
Even on the sidelines, Pearlman will make jokes during speeches to inspire his team.
“I just like when he’s telling a story and the next thing you know he’s got some spit flying out because he’s so into the story,” Toia said. “When he gets thinking, staring at the game, he starts to bite his tongue. It’s just funny to see somebody so focused and do some weird stuff on the side.”
Velazco and Toia said their favorite memories of Pearlman was when he would drive them around for tournaments for Tucson Soccer Academy and the Real Salt Lake AZ Academy. Velazco remembered a story involving a couple speeding tickets on the way to Phoenix.
“He wasn’t related to me,” Velazco said. “He was just trying to help me out and get to the ranks professionally, back then it was just a dream. He’s the guy who had confidence in me to get there. He was like a dad to me.”
It’s the caring personality that made Pearlman stand out among his peers. Longtime Tucson legendary soccer coach Wolfgang Weber first met Pearlman close to 16 years ago.
“I knew at that time that Jon was going to be a part of a special group of young coaches,” Weber said. “He had a bright future. The crowning achievement for Jon is the formation of FC Tucson and bringing MLS soccer to Tucson is nothing short of phenomenal.”
When Weber underwent triple bypass surgery recently, Pearlman was always there to provide a helping hand.
“In the hospital room, just making comments and shining light on the whole situation of me laying there,” Weber said. “That’s just Jon. It makes it so enjoyable to be around him.”
Pearlman has a way of making everyone in the room feel like the most important.
“Jon just always gave me that confidence so I could be myself,” Velazco said. “A lot of coaches wouldn’t let me by myself just because I had such a strong attitude. I always had a chip on my shoulder. A lot of coaches didn’t like that. Jon Pearlman let me be me. He liked that I had that edge and personality.”
Soccer is so much more than the results for Pearlman. It’s a vehicle for social change.
“I have a mind that has a veracious appetite for learning,” Pearlman said. “The greatest joy I have is giving back. The bigger my network is, the more people I can help. Soccer is a vehicle for me to do a lot of things.”
For Velazco, Pearlman helped him overcome obstacles and challenges alike, the biggest coming during his freshman year at Cal State San Bernardino. Velazco’s eligibility was under the microscope, as he was being investigated by the NCAA for playing too many reserve games.
“I called Jon and told him I have to get out of here,” Velazco said. “He said, just stick it out and give it two more games.”
Five minutes later, Velazco received a call from his head coach.
“The coach told me I was cleared and to get my butt over there,” Velazco said. “I was packing up my stuff, I was done. Jon just kept me focused and on the right track.”
That’s Pearlman’s biggest goal at the end of the day as head coach of FC Tucson.
“A chance to help players move onto the next level and achieve their soccer dreams,” Pearlman said. “Hopefully, give them some quality life experience. I understand how to push players where they need to go.”
While he may have some lofty goals for the organization he considers his baby, with Pearlman at the helm, FC Tucson is under a position to succeed.
“If you’ve been part of the FC Tucson fabric, you feel a connection to it forever,” Pearlman said.
“I just want to make sure the fabric weaves its way through all of Tucson, throughout the country and internationally. Soccer is the world’s game and I want FC Tucson to impact and be a positive experience.”
He and his fellow managing members of FC Tucson (Rick Schantz and Greg Foster) have managed to do the impossible: bring preseason soccer and the MLS to Tucson.
“The world has so much to offer you,” Pearlman said. “As Warren Zevon said, I’ll sleep when I’m dead.”