One of the most popular players in his days, Hans-Peter Briegel's original sport was athletics, being successful in various events such as long jump (personal best: 7 metres 50 cm), triple jump and specifically in heptathlon-forerunner pentathlon. Briegel gained his best result as an athlete in Decathlon, but the son of a farmer struggled to compete properly in javelin throw and the high jump. So at the age of 17 he left athletics behind him, playing club football with hometown side SV Rodenbach near Kaiserslautern.
Two years after that he was picked up by Erich Ribbeck and Ribbeck took him to training with 1. FC Kaiserslautern, being impressed by the power and stamina the youngster had to offer. Ribbeck was aware that Briegel struggled to combine football need with his physical power and presence, but as practice makes perfect, Briegel was improving. Failing to cope the needs as striker, he did a lot better as defender. On 10 April 1976, Ribbeck brought him on as a sub in a 4–3 win over FC Bayern Munich. Until 1984 he stayed with local side 1. FC Kaiserslautern before he moved on to Hellas Verona in Italy. It should be seen as one of the best efforts of his career that he also gained his sort of reputation and importance in a league such as the Italian Serie A, largely seen as one of the most technical in Europe. Briegel was an immediate key to success for his new club, surprisingly capturing the Serie A title in 1985 with the Gialloblu. The same year Briegel was named Fußballer des Jahres (Footballer of the Year) in Germany, remarkable as he was the first foreign-based awardee in the history of the award.
Subsequent to the end of his contract at Hellas Verona, Briegel changed clubs to join fellow Italian top division outfit U.C. Sampdoria of Genoa with whom he won the Coppa Italia before his retirement as a player in 1988. Hans-Peter Briegel's success in football, based on his physical constitution, his speed and his tireless running, made him the clearest symbol for the soldier-like reputation of German football in between the years. His nickname Die Walz von der Pfalz (literally "The steamroller from Palatinate") is referring to both, his playing style as well as to his origin. Briegel, who scored 47 goals in 240 Bundesliga matches, was a keen proponent of the idea of playing without shin pads and did not wear any in his career.
A Euro 1980 qualifying fixture against Wales in October 1979 gave Briegel his first chance to shine for West Germany and he did, enjoying his final breakthrough for his country in the mentioned tournament from which they emerged victorious. He was, then, part of the runner-up campaign of West Germany at the 1982 FIFA World Cup and featured alike in the less successful Euro 1984, all under the coaching of Jupp Derwall. In the 1982 World Cup final, he was responsible for conceding a penalty early in the game by fouling Bruno Conti. Luckily, the penalty was missed but it did not save Germany from losing the final. Derwall's successor Franz Beckenbauer kept him in his squads and, so, Briegel was able to take part in his second successive World Cup in Mexico in 1986. He was a regular, still, but finally the key to Argentina's winning goal in the final. Three minutes past Rudi Völler's equaliser and seven minutes short of the proposed extra-time, Briegel was, alongside his defending colleagues, hovering near the centre circle of the Estadio Azteca pitch on 29 June when Diego Maradona's pass was going to get on its way to striker Jorge Burruchaga. With his team-mates aware, all moving forward quickly before that pass happened (to put the Argentinian striker offside), Briegel's hesitation worked as backfire for the West Germans, giving Burruchaga the chance to pounce decisively on them. Power-house Briegel tried to catch Burruchaga up in an attempt to dispossess him, indeed, but Burruchaga game-winning shot happened before Briegel's desperate tackle came to happen. With Beckenbauer not a true fan of his way of playing and him not having any intention to stand in the way of the coach to build a new team ahead of Euro 1988, to be held in West Germany, the tall defender quit Die Nationalmannschaft with this, his 72nd, appearance.
His first job in coaching Briegel did at FC Glarus, a second tier club from Switzerland. He then took the ropes of German lower league side SV Edenkoben before he was given the role of manager at then relegated Bundesliga side SG Wattenscheid 09 in 1994, a stay that didn't work out well. As a consequence he turned his back on coaching, re-joining 1. FC Kaiserslautern as sporting director in 1996. He resigned from that job in October 1997 following a hefty question of authority with the team's manager, Otto Rehhagel. He, later on, returned as a director to the club, a decision that saw him being involved in a financial scandal.
He accepted the offer of the Football Association of Albania to become head coach of Albania in December 2002. Before accepting the role Briegel had had various other job offers as his coaching experience, however limited, had been that of assistant to Karl-Heinz Feldkamp at Beşiktaş J.K. in Turkey, and the successor of Feldkamp at Beşiktaş J.K. (from September 1999 to 30 June 2000) and further on top of coaching at fellow Turkish Super League team Trabzonspor (7 November 2001 – 30 June 2002). However he went ahead and accepted the Albania job with very much success for four years (2002–2006). To date he is the most successful coach of Albania of all times because of the number of points per match in the two qualifiers UEFA Euro 2004 Qualifications and the FIFA World Cup 2006 Qualification. He resigned from the role on 9 May 2006, after the extension of the contract offered him by the Albanian Federation was linked to the results that would be obtained.