Nov. 9—BLUEFIELD — The completion of Bluefield High School's 2023 football season marked the end of an era for Beavers football.
It has not so far marked the end of the Fred Simon coaching era, even though rumors were rampant during the preseason that his retirement was imminent.
"Was this my last season? I don't think so. You never know ... but I don't think so," said Simon, who is a literal West Virginia Sports Legend.
Instead, the epochal shift at hand is the resignation of Fritz Simon — a.k.a. Fred Simon, Jr. — as offensive coordinator at Bluefield High School.
In high school football, assistant coaches tend to come and go quite a bit under the public radar as coaches with head coaching ambitions move about building their resumes.
This particular exit, however, is unusual for two reasons, the first being Fritz Simon's exceptionally long 20-year tenure with the Bluefield program.The second reason is that as Fred Simon's son, his roots in the Beavers football program run much, much deeper than merely his seasons as an offensive coordinator.
"He started as a manager of our team when he was six years old," said the elder Simon, who observed his 300th head coaching victory with Bluefield's defeat of Giles in the Beavers' penultimate game of this season.
Essentially, Fritz was a constant presence around the clubhouse right up to the time he was old enough to play varsity football under his dad.
He had a minimal role as a player as a freshman during the 1995 state championship season — Fred Simon's first — but grew into a starting role as a defensive back and pass catcher and went on to play a significant role on Bluefield's 1997 state championship team.
His senior year at Bluefield, Fritz was asked to step in as a starting quarterback. That lone season — which included a stint of calling his own plays in a no-huddle look — was probably what revealed his innate instincts for calling offensive plays in the flow of a live football game.
After he graduated high school, Fritz moved to Blacksburg, Va. to pursue his college education at Virginia Tech. After Fritz returned to Bluefield with his diploma and everlasting street cred as a Beamer-Era Hokies alum, he began serving as offensive coordinator under Fred.
It proved an auspicious hire: the Beavers won the 2004 state championship in his first season calling offensive plays for Bluefield.
"I was 23 years old, man. I had some pretty big shoes to fill," said Fritz, who now serves as an assistant principal at Bluefield High School.
Bluefield's 2023 gridiron campaign, which wrapped up at 4-6, was the probably the opposite end of the fun spectrum. Losing talented running back Amir Hairston was the most highly-publicized setback, but this team still seemed to have unrealized potential that, for some reason or another, stubbornly failed to manifest.
Such are the year-to-year rhythms of the high school game. Fritz has been a part of the picture in good times and bad for many, many moons. This season, Fred Simon's 300th career coaching victory went a long way to redeeming the frustration.
"I've bled, cried and celebrated Bluefield football for a long, long time. As a family and being coaches together ... that was a big time for us," said Fritz.
"As a player and a coach, I'd been a part of 217 of those wins."
Fritz served as the offensive coordinator for four of the five state championship football teams won under Fred Simon's administration: 2004, 2007, 2009 and 2017. Fritz also wrangled three state runner up offenses (2005, 2018 and 2019) while also mentoring two Kennedy Award winners.
His track record was the probable the fuel behind another viral preseason rumor: that Fritz would to assume the reins of the Bluefield program after Fred retired.
Fred said he knew before the season even started that that 2023 would be the final season his son served on his staff. Fritz told him so.
"I've been a principal since 2020 and before that, we really weren't allowed to coach. The new superintendent came and he allowed me to ... but it was becoming hard to balance my time between my job, my family and coaching," said Fritz who has a 13-year-old daughter, a 10-year-old daughter and a 10-year-old stepson.
Football culture has been part of his life for so long that Fritz knows that he will miss many things when he is no longer immersed in it. But it will also be a reprieve of sorts.
"The grind ... I won't miss that. Our job responsibilities [as principals] are never-ending. I have other games I have to go watch ... soccer, volleyball, basketball and everything else on top of the practice times and going to see my kids' events. It becomes a hassle sometimes," said Fritz, who dispelled any rumors that he was going to coach elsewhere.
"It's time for me to kind of take a timeout. I'm not planning on coaching anywhere else. I'm not going anywhere. I don't want to be the guy coaching against the Bluefield Beavers," Fritz said with a laugh.
Fred has no doubt that Fritz is highly qualified to be a head football coach at Bluefield High School — or any other high school, for that matter.
"Oh, I think he'd be a fantastic head coach," Fred said.
"He's cared about Bluefield High School as much as I ever would. He's worked as hard as anybody can possibly work for us. I appreciate what a fantastic job he's done as an offensive coordinator ... just spotting things and helping with the whole program. I'm proud of him and I'll miss him. He's as good a coach as you could ever have," said Fred
As they say, the apple didn't fall far from the tree.