Earnest Byner was a 14 year NFL veteran for the Browns, Redskins, and Ravens. He had 72 total touchdowns in the NFL, rushed for over 13,400 yards, and caught 512 passes in his career. After retiring, he began coaching in the NFL. He has coached some of the games best backs, including Doug Martin, Chris Johnson, and Maurice Jones-Drew. He also wrote a book, called “Everybody Fumbles.¨ Here is our interview with Earnest Byner:
You were a running back in the NFL for fourteen years, when they say the average career for a running back is three to four years. How would explain that extraordinary longevity?
¨First of all, being blessed. God was definitely with me. The ability to deal with pain, but also having a little bit of a freakish body. I recovered quickly and healed quickly. The mindset that I was given from God allowed me to things mentally that some guys don’t have naturally.¨
You fumbled more often in the beginning of your career, and then not as often in the last nine years of your career. What did you do to cut back on your fumbles and what can you teach to some of our young running backs here in Detroit?
¨It’s a focus thing. It has to become a paramount to you when you actually play in the game. You have to actually go back to practice. I was talking to one of my former running backs today about the issue and I told him that even when you go through walkthroughs, everytime you touch the ball in practice, make the ball the most important thing that you have. I can remember walking around in practice and in meetings having a ball. I had it around me enough to rub on it, to feel it a little bit. All that made it enate to me to take of the ball. Early times in my career it wasn’t something that was enate, protecting the ball, fighting for those extra yards. After I got to the Redskins, coaches wouldn’t let me be on the field if I’d dropped the ball.”
When you look back on your Superbowl win with the Redskins, does your TD reception still standout in your memory?
“I actually just re-watched that game. The thing that actually stood out to me was that I actually played a darn good game. I rushed the ball well, and brought the will to play. One of the key plays that stood out to me was actually when we were backed up at the one-yard line, maybe a foot and it was an inside zone play called to the left, and the nose tackle came through free, and he actually had me two yards in the endzone for a safety, and I fought my way out of there and get the ball back to the one yard line. That play stood out to me more than anything in that game, actually. But also in the overall game. I caught the ball well, blocked well, and ran well. I had a really good game. I was proud of that.”
You had a 998 yard rushing season and a 1002 yard season – when playing in the last game of those seasons, did you think about how close you were to 1,000 yards?
“To be honest with you my focus has always been winning. But we focused on me getting that 1000 yards for the first time because it was history. It was going to be the first time two guys in the same backfield rushed for 1000 yards each. It was part of the thought process towards the end of the game. It only became important toward the end because my main focus was always winning. The last time, when I was with the Redskins, I actually hurt my back and couldn’t go back in and complete the 1000 yards for the season. It would have been history also because it would have been the first time a Redskins running back rushed for 1000 yards in three straight seasons. The 1000 yard-mark is a benchmark for a lot of running backs.”
What is your greatest NFL memory?
“One of the plays that really stands out to me was when we played the Giants, I believe back in 85’. It was a game that went back and forth and back and forth. It was a play against LT that stood out to me. One was a fourth down pass that I caught and broke his tackle. Although earlier in the game LT had hit me while I was running a route while I wasn’t looking, I didn’t like that. It pissed me off. Anyway, towards the end of the game I scored on a nine-yard trap play for the winning touchdown. That was one of the best games that I was apart of while in the National Football League.”
You were coaching in Washington when Sean Taylor was shot and killed. Although you were the RB coach, how did his death affect the team?
“Well, one of the first things we heard was coming in the next morning after it happened, we had a staff team initially and then a team meeting just to talk about it a little bit. It was actually a very big void that was left behind when Sean was killed. When you have someone there and then all the sudden not there, that energy is gone. And Sean was a really good guy, a really good kid. He had the ability to influence everybody on the team.”
You have been a running backs coach for several teams – are the backs coming out of college today as coachable as running backs when you played?
“Yeah, but all of it depends on the makeup of the guy. You have some guys that think they have it all figured out, some guys haven’t been coached. They have been given the ball and basic assignments and just live off their ability. The thing you have to do as a coach is first of all get to know the player, feel the guys energy, understand what type of guy you’re dealing with, and finding out what motivates him. And then you’re able to actually get into him and teach him. So those are the types of things that I have always done. I think Doug Martin was teachable, Mike James was teachable, Bobby Rainey was teachable. These are the guys that I most recently coached. All of my guys, I found a way to communicate with and gravitate with them. They realized that I could help them. They also said that I actually cared about them, more than them just playing good football for me.”
We hear a lot about concussions and other health issues experience by veteran NFL players. Have you experienced any negative health issues from your 14 years in the league?
“I love the game. I love what it does to people, bringing people together. I love the energy around the game. I played because I love this game. I played at a higher level consistently because I was always trying to seek perfection and get it right. I wanted to help the team be victorious. The issues with the concussions and the other injuries have always been there. I’ve had to deal with pain everyday. I deal with some sort of pressure in my head. They have to deal with the three concussions I’ve had in my career, and a lot of other things what we call “dings”, where you hit heads and your head vibrates for a while.”
You were a punt returner for many years. Today we see fewer and fewer kickoff returns. Do you see a day when the NFL will not have kickoffs?
“I think it’s a wasted play. And with the ball being kicked so deep in the end zone, it’s difficult for anybody to have any success. I feel like they need to either change the rules so the guy can have a chance to make a play, or just take away the play all together and give the offense the ball at the 20-yard line. And the only thing about that is that that’s not football. If you don’t have a kickoff, how do you start the game? I think they need to change it so it at least can become a play. All football is dangerous, whether you have guys running at each other at 20 miles-per-hour, or the kickoff, it will always be dangerous. But it’s still the most glorified game in America.”