For two seasons, the paths of legendary Browns running back Earnest Byner and Sashi Brown crossed in Jacksonville.
Byner was the Jaguars' running backs coach while Brown served as the team's general counsel. Now, the two share another bond: Byner as one of Cleveland's greatest players and Brown as its executive vice president of football operations.
In a wide-ranging interview with ClevelandBrowns.com, Byner heaped praise on Brown, who took on his new position as the 2015 season came to a close.
"I think he has a vision, the talks that Sashi and I had probably five or six years ago, he has a real good feel for people, a real good feel for players. I think he'll be someone that will do a good job," Byner said. "This is his first real opportunity, I think he's the type of guy that can take something and build something and really learn. He'll learn from his mistakes, and he'll also be someone who will steadily grow and give the Browns what they need to be a consistent team."
Byner, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, Super Bowl champion and author of the book Everybody Fumbles, also offered his thoughts on first-year coach Hue Jackson, the direction of the franchise and his advice to this year's team and future teams.
ClevelandBrowns.com: When you say Sashi had vision while you guys were in Jacksonville together, what did you mean?
Earnest Byner: When I say visions, I mean visions of what he wants for the team. What type of players, because I was a coach at that point so we used to talk about some of the players that I saw and some of things that I saw. But he was also telling me what he saw with these guys, he had a real good feel and real good understanding for the guys even from his position there. He was really working as a lawyer, working as counsel. But he was still developing his vision for what he wanted in different positions and what he wanted from guys at different positions and what type of character he wanted from players as well.
CB.com: Is there a common thread to what that character is?
Byner: Oh yeah, guys that have a mentality that he wants to learn but also has somewhat of development process. But also he has an ability to recognize some of the talents they have.
CB.com: I'm not sure how well you know Hue Jackson, but what are your impressions of him so far?
Byner: He did a really good job in Oakland to tell you the truth, everywhere he's been he's been able to develop players. So what that says to me is that's not a mistake. If you move to different places and the players get better, then there's something there. He's had the ability to develop the quarterback position but also get what he wanted out of the different offenses that he's been the coordinators for. So I think one of the important things for a coach to be able to do is to develop players and develop what he sees as the potential for the players. I think Hue has that. I know he has it because he's shown it and I think he has the ability to bring that here.
CB.com: The Browns took some criticism outside of the organization during the early part of free agency. What did you make of that?
Byner: One of the things that, if you look around the league, and I believe Sashi is very savvy and very aware of the teams that have done good things over time and what those teams have done to do those good things over time. And one of the things they haven't done is make snap judgments or knee-jerk reactions to anything that's been said in the paper, or a guy gets in trouble, staff member gets in trouble. You don't see Baltimore, you don't see New England, you don't see Seattle, you don't see Pittsburgh (do that). These are teams that have had success over time, and I think Sashi is going to use that information. Those teams, they build through the draft. They might add some sugar here with free agency, but long-term development, it's through the draft. And I believe they'll see how to make those right picks.
CB.com: What's your message to this year's Browns team and future teams?
Byner: My message is to make sure that you try to take your game to the next level, you're always learning, you're always in the position of learning and growing, and not just the players. It's the coaching staff, the GM. Sashi is really in a place to make some things happen that he's had a vision of even when we were in Jacksonville together. So to me it's not just on the field, it starts at the top and it goes all the way down for a level of consistency that the Browns should be standing on.
Respect the legacy that is the Browns. Because if you respect the legacy, then you have something that you're building upon. Having that nice solid foundation, understanding that growth has to happen and that growth takes time. It's not just something that's just going to go 'poof.' If you're looking for a quick fix, you're going to get inconsistency. But if you're looking for something that's going to last and be steady, then the opportunity for people to grow has to be given. I think they have a coaching staff who are teachers. The front office are ones that will have an understanding and will get an understanding of the game and also growth. They have time to grow together, this coaching staff and this front office, I think they have an opportunity to do something special, but you need consistency.