49ers linebackers coach Johnny Holland will be stepping away from his role starting Sept. 6, due to a relapse of multiple myeloma, a cancer that affects plasma cells.
The longtime coach was originally diagnosed in 2019 and has gone through multiple bouts of remission and relapse. 49ers coach Kyle Shanahan, who has known Holland since 2006 when they were both with the Houston Texans, spoke on Monday about how the coach of 30 years has had an impact on him and everyone he comes into contact with.
“Whoever has been around Johnny at all, he means a ton to them,” Shanahan said. “I have as much love for Johnny as any person I’ve ever been around. He is such good person, he is genuine every day. He is so much about the people around him. And his wife, Faith is the exact same type of person. They are both special.”
When Holland was first diagnosed in 2019, Shanahan and the coaching staff adjusted team schedules to allow him to make all of his treatment appointments. It was also the origin of the team’s “I.G.Y.B.” motto — an abbreviation of “I’ve got your back.”
At the time, players and staff alike donned t-shirts with the four large letters emblazoned on across the back but the reasoning behind the apparel was kept under wraps. It was only after the Holland’s cancer was in remission that the source of the motto was revealed.
“Just to give you guys an example of the type of guy Johnny is, he always tells me and he means it, how happy he is that he's going through this and not someone else,” Shanahan said. "Not some kid or not someone who couldn't handle it the same way.
“Johnny’s faith is so strong and who he is, is so strong that he believes he can be an inspiration to people who are dealing with this stuff like he’s been to us every single day. And I can't say enough about Johnny. He is a very special dude who I plan on being around here for much longer.”
Before coaching, Holland was originally a quarterback that transitioned quickly to defensive back and then linebacker at Texas A&M. He was drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers in 1987 and posted over 100 tackles for six consecutive seasons of his seven-year NFL career.
After a few seasons away from the game, Holland began his coaching career which spans 30 seasons in the NFL and Canadian Football League combined. He has had an incredible impact on the 49ers organization including, defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, who was voted AP Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2006 while Holland was his coach with the Houston Texans.
Under Holland’s watch, 49ers linebacker Fred Warner reached All-Pro status.
“He does everything the right way and he just genuinely cares so much about the people that he can help,” Shanahan said. And from what he's done with Fred, to every linebacker in that room. I mean, you guys start to ask them about him, I bet you start to hear them speak very similarly as me, if not better. He is completely invested in his players and on top of that, he is a very smart person who knows football well.
“But what makes him different is how much he can connect to people. He would be successful in anything he would have ever chose to do. The fact that he chose to be a football coach, I know he's impacted every single person he’s gotten the opportunity to coach. It's really shown that with our linebackers.”
Shanahan knows how much the 56-year old coach loves being around the game and has emphatically advised that his position with the team will be there whenever he is ready to return. The head coach also wants to make sure Holland has everything he needs to make a full recovery.
“Our biggest thing is just making it very clear to him and Faith that he’ll always have the opportunity anytime that he ever wants it,” Shanahan said. “But I also know what the most important thing for him is to do too, and that’s to attack this treatment as hard as he can and to focus on that. We'll have his back and we'll always be here when he's done with that.”