As Ricky Ricardo would say, Jeff Fisher has some ’splainin’ to do regarding the dismissal of Earnest Byner as running backs coach.
On Byner’s watch, Titans star running back Chris Johnson merely became the best running back in the National Football League and enjoyed a 2,006-yard season to prove it. So how does Byner get rewarded? He gets shown the door, and in comes Kennedy Pola to take his place.
Pola’s credentials are solid enough, given his work in Jacksonville with Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. But Byner and Johnson quickly bonded partly because of their East Carolina connection.
Also, Byner’s resume contains something that no other coach in league history can claim. There have only been six men in the history of the NFL to rush for 2,000 yards in a season, and Byner has coached two of them — Johnson this season and Jamal Lewis in Baltimore in 2003. In addition to that, Johnson also became the first player in league history to run for 2,000 yards and have 500 yards receiving in a season.
Certainly if the Titans were looking to shake up the coaching staff as a way to show that there would be repercussions for an 0-6 start and an overall 8-8 season for a team that harbored Super Bowl aspirations, the running backs coach would seemingly be one of the last places to look for scapegoats.
After all, Johnson’s successful quest for two grand was brightest spot in an otherwise disappointing campaign. That, even with Tennessee working its slim playoff hopes until Week 15, kept the Titans’ season interesting to the very end. So, based on Johnson’s accomplishments alone, performance in no way could have been the issue in Byner’s dismissal.
Perhaps we will never know for sure what was behind the move, but speculation is that Byner didn’t fit into what the Titans were looking for on the coaching staff. For one thing, Byner apparently wasn’t afraid to voice his opinion on matters, even when the message wasn’t one that others necessarily wanted to hear.
Maybe that didn’t play well, but a voice of dissent isn’t always a bad thing in the workplace. Sometimes it can even be a good thing if channeled the right way. Also, Byner apparently wasn’t afraid to voice criticisms of the players in his own room when he felt it was necessary.
Whatever the method, Byner got results. The two-year career of Johnson thus far is on par with some of pro football’s all-time greats after their first two NFL seasons. Don’t forget, too, that Byner coaxed a superb season out of LenDale White in 2008 with 15 touchdowns even in a part-time role after he had been the featured starter the year before.
Byner’s stint in Tennessee was brief, but plenty productive and memorable for Titans fans, which makes it even more important for someone in the organization to explain why he was let go.