Earnest Byner

Earnest Byner picks up yardage against the Eagles in 1996 during the Ravens' first exhibition game, which was played at Memorial Stadium. (Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

He might coach for the Washington Redskins, but not everything in Earnest Byner's home is bathed in burgundy and gold. A vase on the mantel commemorates Byner's induction into the Ravens' Ring of Honor. A leather jacket in his closet bears the Ravens crest.

"It's all part of who I am," said Byner, who spent eight years in Baltimore as a player and executive before joining the Redskins in 2004 as an assistant coach.

One of the NFL's premier running backs, Byner was near the end of his 14-season career when he played for the fledgling Ravens in 1996. On Sept. 1 that year, he became the first player to carry the ball for Baltimore's new franchise. Byner, who rushed for nearly five miles in his career, gained 1 yard on the play.

The Ravens won the game, and fans remember a jubilant Byner disappearing into the first-base dugout at old Memorial Stadium, holding the game ball aloft.

Smart, solid and with a sound work ethic, he remained upbeat as his playing time diminished. He accepted his reduced role and retired - albeit grudgingly - after the 1997 season.

"It was time to go," he said Tuesday. "Nearly every time I got hit on the field, I got a stinger [pinched nerves in the neck]."

Byner stayed with the club as director of player development for six years.

In 2000, during halftime of a game against the Browns, he became the first person inducted into the Ravens' Ring of Honor, a nod as much to Byner's career in Cleveland as in Baltimore.

"That [award] was a tremendous thrill," he said. "My legacy was the tie between two cities."

Now 45, Byner lives in Ashburn, Va., with his wife and four daughters. Fit as ever, he rides his road bike as many as 25 miles a day around the Redskins' facility and elsewhere.

His goal is to become an NFL head coach.

"In 10 years, I hope to have won a Super Bowl, be retired and be playing senior golf," he said.

"That's asking a lot, I know, but if you can't reach way up there, why reach at all?"

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com