Utes Soccer Strike On with Coach Manning


By Carlos Padilla

A sports team is structured much like a military platoon. There are the athletes ⁠— the foot soldiers ⁠— who bravely charge into war week after week. The athletes follow their skills coaches ⁠— the lieutenants ⁠— who are tasked with ensuring the players are ready to compete. At the top of the chain of command is the head coach ⁠— the general.

The head coach is in charge of making sure every aspect of their team is where it needs to be. The head coach is ultimately responsible for the success or failure of the season. Much like a general in the heat of battle, the head coach of a sports team makes decisions that will ultimately affect the outcome of the competition.

Rich Manning, head coach of the University of Utah soccer team, has been the general on the battlefield for the past 18 years.

As the oldest of four siblings, Manning was born and raised in the golden state of California. When he was growing up, sports were a constant part of Manning’s life. Then, as a young man, Manning was a baseball player. He switched to soccer only after being told that baseball registration was full. Although it was not what he was used to, Manning took to the sport and showed great athletic ability.

After graduating from high school, Manning furthered both his soccer and academic careers at the University of Santa Clara. As a player, Manning had a successful four-year career. During his junior season, Manning earned many All-Far West accolades because of his exceptional ability with the ball. In his senior season, he was named team captain. Manning graduated in 1986 cum laude with a B.S. in mathematics. Several years later, Manning added to his academic portfolio with a master of education degree from Azusa Pacific.

Manning began working with students as a math teacher at Servite High School in Anaheim, California. While at Servite, Manning coached both women’s and men’s soccer.

Manning later moved schools to Los Alamitos, where he continued coaching both men and women. During his tenure at Los Alamitos, Manning won two California Interscholastic Federation championships, and he produced eight NCAA Division I athletes. Manning was presented with the 1996 California Interscholastic Federation Coach of the Year Award and was named the Orange County Coach of the Year in 1997. To complement his early success, Manning also helped develop the Southern California Blues Club, which is now a well-recognized and respected soccer organization.

Manning returned to Santa Clara in 1998 after being hired onto the women’s soccer coaching staff. After three years as an assistant, Manning was named associate head coach. During this time, Manning boasted an 84-11-2 record, including four NCAA Tournament appearances, three NCAA College Cups and an NCAA Championship. With his success at Santa Clara, Manning was able to land the top job at Utah in 2002.

Since becoming head coach at Utah, Manning has built the Utes into an elite team in the west. Manning has brought the Utes to seven NCAA Tournament appearances. Before joining the Pac-12, Manning led the Utes to three Mountain West Conference championships as well as two league tournament titles. In 2016, Manning guided Utah to its deepest tournament run in program history, fighting all the way into the third round before falling to USC.

While always developing athletes, Manning also is known for developing scholars. Utah has earned more United Soccer Coaches Team Academic Awards than any other school in the Pac-12. The Utes have received this award annually since 2009, the longest streak of any conference team. While Manning has accomplished much in his time at Utah, he is always looking for new ways to drive the program forward.

“We’re at another place where we can launch from. I feel that we have matured into a Pac-12 program over the last couple of years,” Manning said. “I love the new facility and the things that the university is doing. I think we are at a place where we can be a real contender.”

With an excellent track record and a history of success, Manning has established himself as a respected coach in the world of collegiate sports. He is quick to clarify that although he has been in the game, there is always something new to learn.

“You never stop learning. Every day is a great opportunity to learn. We have a saying in soccer — the most important play in soccer is the next one,” he said. “It is really important to live in the moment and take the situations that are presented with and make the most of them.”

Devoting most of his professional life to coaching, Manning has an inner drive that has spanned decades and all skill levels.

“I love working with people. I love helping people reach their goals. I love the game, and I love the team aspect of sports,” Manning said. “I didn’t think that I would devote my life to coaching. I started out as a math teacher for 11 years. I think this is just another avenue to do some of the similar things. It has been really rewarding taking young people and working with them. It is what I really like.”

Legacy is something that all coaches leave, and Manning has built an excellent name for himself. From helping young athletes in California to leading his alma mater to several titles and now making the Utah program become what looks to be a real contender in the west, Manning definitely has built a legacy for himself. A very humble man, Manning does not wish himself to only be remembered for his wins or championships.

“We always put the player’s interest first. It’s all about the team. It’s all about the players getting the most out of their experiences and hopefully having a lot of success,” Manning said.

Head coaches are one of the most critical people in any given sport. They weather the storms, push the attacks and help refocus when the game feels like it is slipping away. The Utes are privileged to have a coach who fulfills all these requirements and more. Coach Manning is not only a soccer coach, but he is also a coach of life. Manning looks to push the Utah program forward by building up his players not only as athletes, but as people.

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