If the San Francisco 49ers have a third straight successful January, look for yet another disruptive February for the 49ers coaching staff.
"The wolves aren't at the door trying to disrupt anything yet," Carmen Policy, the 49ers executive vice president, said Thursday. "But I expect them back."Those wolves come in the form of general managers and owners of losing NFL franchises who are looking for coaches stamped with the brand of "WINNER" to take over their failing teams.
This season, there should be a new outbreak of head-coaching vacancies in search of a warm body. Tampa Bay and Cleveland fired their head coaches during the season and appointed interim coaches. Vacancies in New England and Minnesota also seem possible.
And assistant coaches groomed in the 49ers' system of success probably will be attractive candidates. The names of wide-receivers
coach Sherm Lewis and defensive-backs coach Ray Rhodes have been tossed around as head-coaching material in the past.
"Any team that wins appears attractive to teams that lose," Policy said. "Our coaching staff is well thought of outside our organization."
Last season, 49ers offensive coordinator Mike Holmgren was the most attractive member of the 49ers staff. As soon as the regular season ended and coaches' heads began to roll, Holmgren's name surfaced as a candidate for various openings.
"There were a lot of names being bantered back and forth," Vice President John McVay said. "The speculation was mostly in the media."
That speculation intensified during the month of January, and Holmgren's future became a side-theme throughout the playoffs.
"It really wasn't a distraction," Holmgren said. "I really tried to stay focused and push those things to the back burner. And I think I did that."
Though the 49ers players clearly weren't adversely affected by the rumors surrounding Holmgren, they were keeping tabs on his status.
"We were concerned," said tight end Brent Jones. "We didn't want to lose Mike. It's nice not to have that distraction this year."
The Niners don't have to fret over Holmgren's future because, after interviewing with the New York Jets and the Phoenix Cardinals the week after the 1990 Super Bowl, Holmgren decided to stay with the 49ers and agreed to a three-year contract extension.
Holmgren has said his decision was a personal one, based primarily on family concerns.
But a team source said that, though it is not a written clause in Holmgren's contract, it is understood that should Coach George Seifert step down, Holmgren would be his successor as head coach of the 49ers.
It is not known what escape clauses, if any, exist in Holmgren's contract, but a team source said the 49ers are confident Holmgren will be the offensive coordinator at least through the 1991 season.
"I'm sure just as many people are interested in him, but this year you don't hear the talk," quarterback Steve Young said.
Not surprisingly, Holmgren refuses to comment on his contract or future plans.
"If we started talking about it, then it would become distracting," Holmgren said.
Young saw a bright side to the ongoing pursuit of Holmgren last season.
"I'm sure it was a distraction to him because he had to answer so many questions," Young said. "But I think some of us were kind of glad someone else was getting asked all the questions."
Policy said he thinks that opposing teams have learned to respect a team's preparation for the playoffs and will hold off contacting assistant coaches until after the team's season is over.
"Protocol dictates that to be well-received a team should wait until after the playoffs," Policy said. "In the past, it's been upsetting for us, to be honest."
But if protocol holds, and the 49ers' January record of success continues, February could be eventful.