Football is still a rush for Byner Ravens: His playing days are over, but Earnest Byner's position as director of player development keeps him running.

October 10, 1998|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

He no longer lives with the pressure of producing yards on the football field, yet Earnest Byner has never stopped running.

Six months into the next phase of his professional career, Byner sits in his office at the Ravens' complex in Owings Mills, as the sights and sounds swirl around him.

Byner is jotting down phone messages and thinking about the practice that begins in a few hours, while watching tape of the Tennessee Oilers. The soothing jazz of Thelonious Monk wafts from his portable stereo. His desk is an interesting mess, where video game tapes mingle with appointment notes and "The Portable Nietzche," one of many philosophy books Byner digests.

"Just trying to open up the head a little bit. I'm pretty analytical," Byner said. "I stick mainly with [reading material] that's going to be edifying and can build me up, something that teaches me about the self and the understanding of life."

Byner, 36, is attacking his life's latest transition in the same graceful manner he displayed while making tacklers miss in his prime. After starting his career as a 10th-round draft pick, then amassing 8,261 rushing yards (16th all-time), 512 receptions (sixth) and 72 touchdowns over 14 seasons, he has taken his game to a different level.

Byner's title is the Ravens' director of player development, a job he decided to take after the Kansas City Chiefs nearly convinced him to come west and become their running backs coach in March. Partly because he did not wish to uproot his wife and four daughters, partly because he did not wish to put in the endless hours required of assistant coaches, Byner jumped at the chance to stay with the Ravens.

His duties are essentially three-fold. He is a part-time assistant to running backs coach Al Lavan, part-time personnel assistant and a community relations coordinator. Depending on the day or time of year, Byner could be evaluating potential draft picks or free agents, working with running backs on the field or in the classroom, counseling players on such matters as finances or organizing charity work in the community.

Byner, who still works out regularly, looks fit enough to play the game, which he did not leave quietly. After the Ravens told Byner his time was up, he fought them, claiming he could prove them wrong given one more chance. After all, Byner had spent much of his career holding off the challenges of younger, more athletic players with his maniacal work ethic and attention to detail. Lavan has said he's never seen a back with Byner's practice habits.

"I've always been driven by a fear of failure, never feeling I was quite good enough, but never wanting anybody else doing my job," said Byner, who probably will become a full-time coach someday. "I've always found answers to whatever circumstances have come up.

"With this job, the thing I want to get accomplished is to be able to help [players], encourage someone to make their own life better. This platform I've been given is an excellent opportunity for that."

When he isn't coaching running backs on the field, Byner is interacting with players in every other way. One day, he is arranging public appearances with them. The next, he is advising young players on investment strategies or collecting autographed footballs from them for other organizations.

"He's had to learn what to do with his time, and it's like he has three heads," vice president of public relations Kevin Byrne said of Byner. "Should I be giving Peter Boulware a little philosophy or talking with Priest Holmes or worrying about Ralph Staten? He came to me last week and said we have to find ways to make this year's food drive the best in Ravens history. He is serious."

Byner's office door is always open. He has spent considerable time talking to young backs like Holmes and Kenyon Cotton. Who better to counsel Jay Graham on how to adjust to getting benched?

"A lot of my success comes from watching [Byner]," Holmes said. "I'm moving forward because I've watched someone who's reliable and accountable. He shows you that consistency works. He's been a motivator, a father figure and a big brother to me."

Said Byner: "My quest is to get these guys to understand that [football] is something that can build you up and make your life that much better. If you make better people, you make better football players and you're a better football team."

Pub Date: 10/10/98

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