Bittersweet moment: Wilmington Hammerheads Coach Mark Briggs, accepts job with Real Salt Lake

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WILMINGTON — When the Wilmington Hammerheads announced this summer the organization would be pulling its professional soccer club from the Port City following the conclusion of the 2016 season, first-year Head Coach Mark Briggs had a range of emotions.

He needed to keep his team focused on the task at hand, while trying to give the home crowd a positive end to the 20-year history of the franchise. Briggs also knew he wanted to stay in the only game he’s ever known as a lifetime footballer from his days across the pond in England to his career playing for the Hammerheads and then leading the club he grew to love in the town he called home.

Mark Briggs.
Mark Briggs.

What Briggs didn’t know was a chance meeting with an executive from Major League Soccer franchise Real Salt Lake during the Hammerheads run in the US Open Cup would eventually lead to his next stop.

After his Wilmington side pushed one of the more well-known MLS clubs to the brink of elimination during the fourth round of the oldest national soccer tournament – a match the Hammerheads conceded 2-2 (3-1) in penalty kicks – Briggs had a chance to talk with Real Salt Lake General Manager Craig Waibel. During the discussion, Briggs expressed his passion for the sport, tactical coaching style and history in the beautiful game.

Little did he know, the chat would lead to his new endeavor: Briggs will head west in a couple of weeks to serve as an assistant for Real Salt Lake’s USL club, Real Monarchs, in Salt Lake City, Utah.

According to Briggs, he had a few options to continue his coaching career, but decided to join the Monarchs because of the potential growth in the position under the Real Salt Lake umbrella.

“This is something that has been very tough on me for a number of reasons, but brings a whole new opportunity my way,” said Briggs. “I didn’t really understand why General Manager Craig Waibel wanted to talk to me for so long that night in the tunnel following our match in the US Open Cup, but they continued to follow the Hammerheads process after and seemed impressed with some of the things we talked about and the movement of our club in Wilmington, despite the challenges we faced after the announcement of the Hammerheads leaving.”

The Real Monarchs play in the United Soccer League.
The Real Monarchs play in the United Soccer League.

After being flown to Utah by the club for a dinner meeting with ownership, Briggs felt good about the discussion and a contract was quickly worked out in the days that followed.

“They flew me out for a very informal meeting on Wednesday and I got to meet the coaching staff, tour the facilities and was back here on Thursday,” Briggs added. “Details on the agreement were worked out and I expect to be in off season meetings beginning of December.”

Briggs has a lot to figure out between now and the beginning of next month from a logistical standpoint, but as a veteran in professional soccer the new assistant already tackled his first task. He took a trip to Winston-Salem on Sunday to scout a few potential prospects at the Coastal Carolina-Wake Forest second round NCAA College Cup match.

While the move is bittersweet for Briggs, who spent much of his time in the area helping youth soccer grow in addition to his presence as a player and coach for Wilmington Hammerheads, he’s excited about the challenge ahead in helping shape one of the leading franchises in professional soccer.

“I’m going to miss a lot of great people here in Wilmington,” Briggs said. “That’s probably the biggest thing I’ll miss. The relationships I’ve built with a number of people from the youth program to just friends and everyday people in Wilmington, I’m going to miss that most.”

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