By Neel Thakkar
Eleven years ago, coach Brent Pearlman took command of a football program that often played second fiddle to the band on Friday nights.
It would be difficult to blame the fans; the team, after all, had pieced together 11 victories in the previous nine years, for an abysmal .157 winning percentage.
That number might be difficult to fully grasp.
Consider the fates of the unfortunate classes of 1994, 1995 and 1997, who saw only their Knights win just three football games in their four years at Prospect. Consider that even Hersey, the current bottom-feeder in the MSL East, has won 30 games in the past nine years.
Put briefly, the team was bad. Consider also, then, the burden of gratitude owed to Pearlman, who brought, in short order, three state titles (2001, 2002 and 2005) to a team that would have been laughed at if it tried to win the division title a few years earlier.
Now, Pearlman is ready – well, almost ready – to move on. He recently made public his decision to retire as coach after next season, which will be his 12th and final year. The “most serious thoughts” of retirement, he said, came last summer. After talking to some of his assistant coaches, Pearlman had “a pretty firm decision by the end of summer” that he would coach this year and one more. He then notified his players and the administration after the season ended, but it was not until January that he announced his decision to the community.
Although the decision might be surprising to some – he has enjoyed great success as a coach, after all – Pearlman says it was a decision carefully considered.
“Even when I was just beginning [as a coach] I was kind of thinking, OK, ‘How many more years do I have left?'” Pearlman said.
Such thoughts might have seemed premature.
In light of the grueling workload most coaches face (which is only magnified in a sport like football), however, it’s understandable. His weekends, Pearlman said, were consumed by game plans that took 22 hours to design; his weekdays spent in a whirlwind of scouting, watching film, dealing with his players’ problems – football-related or not and practicing, not to mention teaching.
“The time invested has been incredible,” Pearlman said.
Pearlman doesn’t regret spending the time – he says he “doesn’t regret one second” – but it has taken its toll.
“I’ve been doing what I do here for a long time,” he said “and if you add the hours I’ve been putting in, it’s a really long time.”
For Pearlman, who is married and has a young daughter, to continue coaching would have meant one of two things: either he would have to slow down and not continue to coach with the same intensity, or he would have to step down and seek other opportunities.
“When I took the job I figured, I’m just going to do the job full speed, and the minute I detected I couldn’t do it full speed, I’d have to start considering what I should do next,” he said. “I still think I can do it full speed right now, and I actually think I can do it full speed for three or four more years, but I also don’t want to kind of start limping out the door.”
Pearlman’s future plans are hazy for the moment, though he said there was a “very high probability” that he would still be teaching next year. In the future, he says, he could see himself working as an administrator, a coach elsewhere, as a teacher only or any other opportunity which he finds interesting.
“I’m young enough now to still seek out another challenge,” Pearlman, who is 42, said. “When I jump back in, I’ll jump in just like how I began here: full speed ahead.”
Indeed, though he says he has “absolutely zero plan[s]” for the future, Pearlman is excited.
“I’m looking forward to being in the position I was in 11 years ago … you just don’t know where you’re headed, and you’ve gotta carve your path out and find where you’re going and how you’re going to do it,” he said. “I think that’ll be tense but I think that’ll be great for me.”
“I think I’m ready for another one of those moments in my life.”