Aaron Fiddler was born to be a football coach.
His parents remember him taking miniature football helmets – the kind kids used to get out of the quarter-and-turn, bubble-gum-and-toy machines at grocery stores and gas stations – and putting them into formations and running plays with them as a baby.
His mom recalls his longest-running Halloween costume: a Pittsburgh Steelers’ uniform that he wore for three consecutive years as a toddler.
There is a family film in which a young Fiddler teaches one of his grandmothers how to line up in, and come out of, a three-point stance.
Then came the eighth-grade presentation in which he had to tell his Andrew Jackson Middle School classmates what he wanted to do for a living – be a football coach.
It is the same occupation held by his father, Alan Fiddler, the former Moorefield High School and current Glenville State College coach who has enjoyed success at both stops.
“Having my dad have all the success he had, it was very enticing to me as a kid,” Aaron Fiddler said. “Coaching is a profession I have admired my whole life. Coaches are very important in people’s lives.
They are father figures to so many people. They are leaders. You can look around the country and see the respect that coaches receive.
“Another good thing about coaching is you get to stay competitive your whole life. Once you can’t perform the sport anymore, it’s one way to satisfy the hunger you have inside.”
Fiddler’s dream has led him from Nitro High School and Marshall University to Glenville and Germany, where he is one of the youngest offensive coordinators in professional football.
The 23-year-old orchestrates the offense and calls the plays for the Marburg Mercenaries, who will face the Braunschweig Lions in the quarterfinals of the German Football League playoffs Sunday.
Marburg (10-2, 9-1) won the GFL’s South Division championship after averaging 36.4 points and 385.6 total yards per game in the regular season.
“Obviously, there are some people who hold my age against me,” Fiddler said, “but I think I have shown people with my knowledge of the game and with my ability as a coordinator that it doesn’t matter how old somebody is. It’s what you know, not how long you have known it.”
He gained much of his coaching knowledge from his father, a former Musselman High School and Glenville State quarterback. Alan Fiddler is in his seventh season at Glenville, where he has a 41-27 record and was the West Virginia Conference Coach of the Year in 2008.
He coached Class A Moorefield to six state titles, including four in a row, and one runner-up finish in 10 seasons. The Yellow Jackets were 98-28 under Fiddler, including 28-2 in the playoffs.
“I learned a lot about the game of football from my father,” Aaron Fiddler said. “As a kid I would draw up plays and he would show me ways that defenses would try to stop them. He taught me the mechanics of the quarterback position as well ass proper techniques at all the positions.
“Throughout my teenage years, I learned a lot about a coach’s demeanor from him and how you interact with other coaches and players. I learned about a winning attitude. My dad has always done a good job of giving me an inside look into what it takes to be a successful coach.”
The younger Fiddler played football at Nitro High. He played on special teams as a freshman and sophomore. He started on the offensive line as a junior, tearing a right knee ligament during the regular-season finale that year. However, he was able to rehabilitate and recover in time for preseason practice entering his senior year, when he was expected to start both ways.
“I came back and was ready to go,” Fiddler said.
His playing days ended in August 2004, when he broke the tibia and fibula in his left leg during the Wildcats’ first scrimmage.
“I knew I couldn’t play football again,” Fiddler said, “so I decided to do the next best thing and coach it.”
Fiddler didn’t choose his college destination until midway through his senior year, eventually opting for Marshall. He spent two semesters on the Huntington campus, changing his major from sports management to education because he figured the latter could lead to a coaching job.
Then came an offer from his father.
“I told him if he wanted to coach, he needed to get here and I would let him coach a position (as a student assistant), not just be a gopher,” Alan Fiddler said.
It was a no-brainer.
“I jumped on that,” Aaron Fiddler said. “It was a great decision.”
Fiddler coached the Pioneers’ tight ends for three seasons, working with players who were older than him, which he said was “interesting at times.” “We actually had three student assistants at the time, and we all coached a position,” said Aaron Fiddler, whose father also put him in charge of scouting reports and film breakdowns. “We had a couple of older coaches on the staff. I think you could see us develop as coaches through the years, and it was because those older coaches took us under their wings and showed us the right way to do things.
“They gave us responsibility and expected a lot out of us. That helped us all grow. That sense of ownership they gave us in our duties really drove us to want to do the best job that we could for them.”
Fiddler was a valuable member of his father’s staff.
“I miss having him here,” Alan Fiddler said. “He did a good job for me. He ran his position meetings. He did our scouting reports and film breakdowns. He ran our scout team in practice.
“He was one of the best guys I have ever had in the press box. He knows what he is talking about. He doesn’t tell you a bunch of stuff you don’t need to know. He understood the system. He knew what to look for and got us the information we needed real quick.”
Aaron Fiddler decided to take the entrance exam for law school after graduating from Glenville State with a bachelor’s degree in behavioral science.
He didn’t do well the first time he took it, scoring 144. His mother, Ronda Moore, and his fiancee, Beth Ann Williams, convinced him to try again. He did well enough the second time he took it, scoring a 153, to earn a full scholarship from the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, Va.
“It wasn’t going to cost me anything,” he said, “so I figured I would at least try it.”
Fiddler didn’t hate it, but he didn’t love it, either.
“It was football season, and I woke up every morning wishing I was in Glenville,” Fiddler said.
He left school in October, less than two months into his first semester, returning to Glenville and serving as a volunteer assistant for the Pioneers’ last four games.
“I didn’t want to step on anybody’s toes by taking over tight ends,” he said. “I just helped with offense any way I could.”
Fiddler pursued college openings at Greensboro (N.C.) and Frostburg (Md.) State after the Pioneers completed their season, interviewing with both NCAA Division III programs in the first week of December.
However, he found a job posting that caught his eye while browsing one of his favorite Web sites, footballscoop.com: Offensive coordinator for the Marburg Mercenaries of the German Football League.
Figuring he had nothing to lose and everything to gain, Fiddler contacted Marburg Coach Joe Roman in early November. Fiddler spoke to Roman twice within two weeks and sent his resume to the Mercenaries’ newly hired coach. Fiddler and Roman began speaking once a week before Roman finally offered the job to Fiddler in mid-December.
Wondering whether he should accept it, Fiddler turned to his father.
“I told him he needed to go over there and see the world and have some experiences he couldn’t have here,” Alan Fiddler said. “I told him if he went over there and screwed up, nobody would know about it.
“I didn’t know if he was ready to be a coordinator or not, but I knew if he went over there, he would be forced to grow up quick. He would be on his own. He would be a coordinator. He would have to start doing game plans and calling plays. It was an opportunity he wasn’t going to get if he stayed here as a graduate assistant.”
Heeding his father’s advice, Aaron Fiddler took the job.
“I felt the experience I was going to get here was a chance I couldn’t pass up, especially being the age I am now,” said Fiddler, who makes less than 1,000 euros – the equivalent of $1,286.50 – per month but doesn’t have to pay for an apartment, car, cell phone, Internet service and two meals a day because those needs are met by the team and paid for by sponsors.
Fiddler played and coached in spread offenses at Nitro and Glenville State, but he has had to take another approach with the Mercenaries because they have athletes who are better suited for a ground-oriented offense that uses play-action passes to complement the run.
The results have been impressive. Marburg has run for 1,991 yards and 33 touchdowns and has thrown for 2,636 yards and 23 scores.
“It has definitely helped me grow and given me confidence,” said Fiddler, whose off-field experiences include traveling to six European countries in July during the league’s midseason break.
“I don’t know just one offense. It shows me that I have learned a lot of different things about the game and can adjust when I have to.”