In June of 2016 the Wilmington Hammerheads of the United Soccer League visited Salt Lake City with hopes of dismantling a U.S. Open Cup run for Real Salt Lake in front of one of the biggest crowds the Hammerheads have ever played in front of. Leading the way was a 34-year-old Mark Briggs who at the time had no idea he would soon be placed in charge of Salt Lake’s own USL side, Real Monarchs SLC.
Catching the attention of the RSL front office after Wilmington’s penalty shootout loss to the Claret-and-Cobalt, Briggs was courted and lured to Sandy to be an assistant coach of the Monarchs to then head coach Mike Petke for the 2017 season. His tenure as an assistant didn’t last long however as a whirlwind start to his career in Sandy was about to settle.
“I think it was a complete whirlwind my first few months with Salt Lake,” Briggs recalled as he spoke with the guys of On Frame, a weekly radio show covering the club. With the departure of former RSL Head Coach Jeff Cassar just three matches into the Major League Soccer season, then Monarchs Head Coach Mike Petke earned his promotion to the first-team leaving Briggs to take the helm of the USL side.
“I’d never met Mike, we’d never spoken to each other so we had a couple of phone calls,” Briggs said. “Everything happened and Mike’s now moved up and I’m the head coach. Not to mention when we both got to Salt Lake, Mike and I were living together so it was certainly interesting.”
Taking the reins of the Monarchs after Petke’s promotion just one game week into the USL season thrust Briggs into a unique challenge for his second stint as a professional head coach.
But despite the unique situation facing him, Briggs has now led the team to a USL Regular Season Championship Shield, the first trophy in club history. Briggs credits the continuity with the first team to the success of the Monarchs this season.
“I think starting the pre-season with Mike [Petke] we put together a plan and the big thing was taking that plan and understanding that it’s the team that matters,” Briggs said of the shield winning season.
Always having a team-first mentality and never being satisfied with the last performance regardless of how well his team played has allowed Briggs to continue evolving as a manager and as a person. Continuing to grow as a young coach is something that has helped mold Briggs into a worthy candidate for the 2017 USL Coach of the Year.
“I may be a little biased, but I don’t see an argument for anyone else for Coach of the Year,” Monarchs General Manager Elliott Fall said during halftime of the club’s final regular season match against LA Galaxy II. “He’s in the situation where he had to take over a team as the head coach just one game into the season under unique circumstances. He had to step in having not gone through the preseason as the head coach and he’s done so well.”
Now almost a year into his tenure at the club and 32 games later, Briggs has led the Monarchs into the USL postseason for the first time in its history with the chance of having the league’ s biggest match hosted at Rio Tinto Stadium in the form of the 2017 USL Cup Final.
“We have to come down to earth and realize that we’ve reached one of our goals. Unfortunately we’re in America and the playoffs are what matters and start over,” Briggs said.
Having already reached one of the goals the team set out to reach, Briggs and the Monarchs still aren’t satisfied with where the season has taken them and continue to look for more. Understanding that being the top team entering the playoffs comes with added pressure, being able to play matches in Sandy provides an opportunity to win USL’s ultimate prize in front of its own fans.
“Our record at Rio Tinto tells you the type of team we are there and we are confident with whoever we play we think we can get a result,” Briggs said. With our fans behind us, it is a hard atmosphere and it is a hard place to come get a result.”
Mark Briggs and the Monarchs will begin their quest for a USL Cup starting on Oct. 20 when they host Sacramento Republic FC at 7:30 p.m. MT from Rio Tinto Stadium. Tickets are available at the Rio Tinto Stadium box office or www.RSL.com/Monarchs/Schedule.