‘Most Underrated’ 49ers Coach Called Possible DeMeco Ryans Replacement

Kyle Shanahan

Getty Kyle Shanahan calls a play on November 27, 2022 in Santa Clara.

The San Francisco 49ers continue to face the possibility of losing defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans, with general manager John Lynch confirming to KNBR’s Murph and Mac Show on Thursday, January 12 that Ryans has drawn interest from Houston, Denver and the latest to request an interview Carolina.

In the event that Ryans does take over a head coaching gig elsewhere, 49ers Webzone analyst Rohan Chakravarthi believes the franchise doesn’t need to look far for his replacement. In fact, Chakravarthi placed a similar scenario with his top choice: Linebackers coach Johnny Holland.

“Johnny Holland may be the most underrated coach on the 49ers, set aside for quarterbacks coach Brian Griese, who has done a tremendous job this season,” Chakravarthi said.

Move Would Continue Trend Within 49ers Organization Under Shanahan

If Ryans does leave and Kyle Shanahan and the 49ers pivot to Holland, it’ll continue this trend inside the organization: Filling the defensive coordinator spot with a linebackers coach.

Robert Saleh was hired as Shanahan’s first DC after serving as linebackers coach for the Jacksonville Jaguars from 2014 to 2016. Once Saleh left for the New York Jets, Shanahan and the 49ers promoted the inside linebackers coach Ryans to defensive coordinator in 2021.

“Holland joined the 49ers when head coach Kyle Shanahan was hired in 2017, and has been the linebackers coach for three of his six seasons in San Francisco, where he, alongside Ryans, has overseen the development of Fred Warner, Dre Greenlaw, and Azeez Al-Shaair,” Chakravarthi wrote.

In the process, Warner has become a perennial All-Pro at inside linebacker. Greenlaw put together a career-best season in 2022. Al-Shaair became a 100-tackle performer in 2021 and is one tackle shy from his 200th career stop per Pro Football Reference. Holland even had to overcome some odds to produce this stout unit — one that involved his health.

“The esteemed linebackers coach stepped away from the team in a full-time role during a battle with cancer, but returned to coaching towards the end of 2021,” Chakravarthi wrote. “Upon his return, Holland received extensive praise from linebacker Fred Warner, who acclaimed the veteran coach as the ‘best linebackers coach in the NFL.'”

Holland’s Resume

Holland, 57, has been immersed with the linebacker spot since his playing days dating back to Hempstead, Texas.

He emerged as a consensus First Team All-American at Texas A&M in 1985. He then got drafted in the second round by the Green Bay Packers in the 1987 draft. He’s the owner of a Super Bowl ring as well, winning in the 1996 season with the Packers.

Holland then dove into coaching in 1995 where the Packers named him defensive quality control. But throughout his coaching tenure, Holland has always been hands on with the linebackers — never being elevated to a full-time coordinator spot. The closest Holland has come to being a coordinator is serving as run game specialist with the 49ers from 2018 to 2020 while coaching outside linebackers.

But again, if Ryans were to leave, the 49ers have an internal option and won’t need to open a national search.

“With his experience as a player and the value he brings as a coach, Holland could be the second internal promotion that Shanahan makes at the defensive coordinator position,” Chakravarthi said.

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