Johnny Holland to step away from San Francisco 49ers as he battles cancer for second time

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- San Francisco 49ers linebackers coach Johnny Holland is stepping away from the team to battle cancer for the second time in the past three seasons.

Holland, who was initially diagnosed with multiple myeloma (a cancer of plasma cells) in 2019, released a statement revealing that the cancer has returned and he will be away from the 49ers beginning Sept. 6, to begin another round of treatment at nearby Stanford Medical Center and the University of California-San Francisco Medical Center.

"In sharing the details of my diagnosis, my desire is that I can be an advocate and beacon of hope for those who are battling cancer to help remind them that we're all in this together," Holland said in the statement.

At a practice last week, every member of the 49ers organization, including coaches, wore T-shirts with the letters "I.G.Y.B." on the back and Holland's initials just above them. The letters stand for "I Got Your Back," which has been a team mantra since coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch arrived in 2017.

Because Holland, 56, and the 49ers went through his previous cancer diagnosis in 2019, Shanahan said the logistics of handling his absence are already in place. Of bigger concern is making sure Holland, who said in the statement he hopes to return to work as soon as possible, doesn't rush back and puts his health first.

"Johnny likes coaching, he likes being here, he loves what he brings to the team and he loves what the team gives him back and that's something that he really enjoys to be around," Shanahan said. "And our biggest thing is just making very clear to him and [his wife] Faith that that's great and all and he'll always have that opportunity any time that he ever wants it. But I also know that the most important thing for him to do is to attack this treatment as hard as he can and focus on that, and we'll have his back and we'll always be here when he's done with it."

A former linebacker, Holland was a second-round pick by the Green Bay Packers in 1987 and played all seven of his NFL seasons with the team. He was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 2001.

Holland is entering his 23rd season coaching in the NFL with previous stops with the Packers, Seattle Seahawks, Detroit Lions, Houston Texans, Las Vegas Raiders and Cleveland Browns. He's in his fifth season with the 49ers after he and Shanahan first worked together in 2006 with the Texans.

During their four seasons together in Houston, Shanahan grew to admire Holland and made him one of his first hires when he took over in San Francisco in 2017. Holland has remained on Shanahan's staff since, working primarily with linebackers but also as a defensive run game specialist.

When Holland received his initial diagnosis in 2019, he had to go through similar treatments, but Shanahan said the Niners, who went 13-3 and won the NFC championship that season, found inspiration in his fight.

"I have as much love for Johnny as any person I've ever been around," Shanahan said. "He is such a good person. He's genuine every day.

"He always tells me how happy he is that he's going through this and not somebody else, not some kid who couldn't handle it the same way. Johnny's faith is so strong and who he is so strong that he believes he can be an inspiration to people who are dealing with this stuff and to us every single day. I can't say enough about Johnny. He is a very special dude who I plan on being around here for much longer."