Commentary

Byner uses 'The Fumble' as tool in his coaching arsenal

Updated: April 18, 2008, 4:11 PM ET
By James Walker | ESPN.com

At age 45, former NFL running back Earnest Byner finally is living his lifelong dream.

Though he amassed 8,261 rushing yards during his 14-year career, it was never Byner's intention to play professional football. His top priority instead was to coach at the highest level.

[+] EnlargeEarnest Byner
Getty ImagesEarnest Byner, taken in the 10th round by the Browns in 1984, finished his career with 8,261 yards rushing.
Today, Byner is a first-year running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans, after a four-year stint in the same capacity with the Washington Redskins. Byner already is having success in his second career. He's coached a 1,000-yard rusher every season in Washington from 2004-07.

"This is the only thing I ever wanted to do; I played football as a means to get to coaching," Byner said. "It was really something that was told to me at age 6 or 7. I remember being in the front yard, and the spirit just came to me and said, 'You're going to be a coach.' "

Former Cleveland Browns head coach Sam Rutigliano said he knew early that Byner was a draft day steal.

Byner was taken by the Browns out of East Carolina in the 10th round (No. 280 overall) of the 1984 draft. He won a Super Bowl, played in two Pro Bowls and finished with more career rushing yards than Herschel Walker (8,225), Roger Craig (8,189) and Larry Csonka (8,081).

Byner's accomplishments earned him a spot at No. 24 on ESPN.com's list of all-time draft steals.

"He was the consummate pro," Rutigliano said. "I often say consistency confirms authenticity, and that best described Earnest Byner."

Byner's most infamous play was "The Fumble" against the Denver Broncos that sealed the AFC Championship Game after the 1987 season. Down 38-31, the Browns were driving to tie before Byner fumbled near the 3-yard line. Cleveland lost, 38-33.

Byner admitted that it took years to get over his mistake because he felt he let a lot of people down. Today, Byner uses his fumble as a powerful coaching tool to teach others how to overcome adversity.

"To be honest, it helped me be a better man and a better person," Byner said. "Going through something like that really gives you perspective that life is not over when you have something tragic happen or something that definitely challenges you."

James Walker covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

James Walker | email

ESPN Miami Dolphins reporter