Soccer

Briggs is ready to take the reigns once again

From the fields of Non-League to a rising coaching star in America. Life was certainly going great for Mark Briggs.

Having enjoyed a playing career floating (his word) around at the likes of Hednesford Town, Willenhall Town, Rushall Olympic, Redditch United and even Tooting & Mitcham, Briggs was being touted for jobs in Major League Soccer.

It had come off the back of a successful time in charge of Wilmington Hammerheads which led to him taking over at USL side Real Monarchs, a feeder for MLS side Real Salt Lake.

He’d just won the league, had been named USL Coach of the Year and signed a three-year contract. The 37-year-old was on the crest of a wave.

“It all went from being so good to falling apart…” Briggs tells The NLP.

A year ago, Briggs was charged with domestic assault after allegations by an ex-partner.

Only they were pure fiction. So much so that last August the charges were dropped and his attorney commented that they were so far without merit they should never have been brought.

But by then Briggs had decided to leave Real Monarchs. Having seen his name dragged through the mud, he could finally be relieved the truth was known.

Character

“That’s the hardest pill to swallow,” he says. “If I’d made a mistake I could have put my hands up and said, ‘I shouldn’t have done those things’. But I’d done absolutely nothing. Because someone is bitter, you lose everything.”

Briggs was always attracted by America. He played for Kalamazoo Outrage in 2008 and Wilmington Hammerheads in 2012 before returning again in 2015 to become Dave Irving’s assistant.

“Wilmington is beautiful,” he says. “It’s a little coastal town in North Carolina – it’s gorgeous. Dawson’s Creek was filmed there! It’s kind of a hidden gem, I guess you’d say.”

A local club with a big youth section came under the Hammerheads’ umbrella before, when Irving took on a more upstairs role, Briggs eventually became manager.

“I’m not sure you ever feel ready,” he says, “But I was comfortable and the players seemed to react to what I was telling them. They always seemed to come to me for advice so that gave me confidence for stepping in.

“I just changed a few things. We didn’t train at the stadium anymore, but at a local school that had a beautiful grass field. Just little things to make it feel a bit different, but also more professional for the newer players coming in.”

He managed to sign the late former Manchester United and Celtic midfielder Liam Miller, ex-QPR attacker Bruno Perone and former Luton Town striker Matthew Barnes-Homer.

A run in the US Open Cup put them, and Briggs, on the map. They beat Miami FC, then managed by Italian great Alessandro Nesta and who boasted players on a wage equivalent to Briggs’ whole squad budget.

“I always remember him looking down the sideline after 15 minutes as if to say, ‘Who the hell are these guys?’ I don’t think they’d touched the ball. We moved the ball well, played between lines, put them on the back foot from the start and won 2-0.”

That led to being drawn against MLS side Real Salt Lake. Think FA Cup minnow story and you’re not far away.

“It’s a hard place to go anyway – they’re a good side – but it’s at altitude and after 50-60 minutes that kicks in and the legs start to go. They had some big names from South American football and we didn’t really have much of a chance, a small team from North Carolina.

“But I quietly fancied us because we had players like Matthew Barnes-Homer, Liam Miller, Bruno Perone, Mael Corboz – players who had played at good levels.”

Although they eventually lost on penalties after a 2-2 draw, the Real Salt Lake hierarchy liked what they saw from Briggs and his side. Before he left the stadium that night general manager Jeff Cassar made a point to seek him out and compliment how his side had played.

At the end of the season Briggs moved to Utah and, after one game as assistant to Mike Petke, became boss of feeder side Real Monarchs.

“The ownership sat me down and I asked what was expected,” Briggs says. “They said, ‘You’ve got to develop players for the first team – and win!’ That’s where I think I really developed as a coach. You’re being challenged in every direction.”

First team players dropping down with the wrong attitude were quickly kicked off the training pitch. They soon realised it was their chance to get back in the Salt Lake side and the shift in culture made the difference. They won the regular season and Briggs was named USL Coach of the Year.

“Things were going really well,” Briggs says. “I signed a new three-year contract, coached against Mourinho when Manchester United came over. It was fantastic.

Progression

“Sky Sports did a story on me the day before the game. Mourinho had actually read it and he stopped me in the tunnel. He congratulated me on the season and told me to keep working hard and take in as much information as I can.

“Afterwards he sat down with me for 15 minutes, asked about my style and philosophy and gave me some advice and pointers. I still use them in my every day coaching. It was huge for me.”

It’s been tough but finally the job offers are coming back in. He’s still in Utah and there could be opportunities that side of the pond, in Europe while he’d love to coach in England.

“I think I’ve got a lot to offer,” Briggs, who has all his coaching badges, says. “I don’t have to be a head coach, I just want to get back in the game and show people what I can bring to the table.

“I’m starting to get offered jobs because people are realising what happened. It’s been an extremely hard 12 months, to be honest. There were some dark days. But I’ve got good family and I’ve got my wife and daughter who supported me through everything.”

Article By Matt Badcock/The Non League Football Paper

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