No NFL coach did it better than Harbaugh

Who had it better among NFL head coaches in 2011 than Jim Harbaugh? Nobody, of course. After guiding the 49ers to a historic turnaround in his first season with the team, San Francisco's rookie leader was a landslide winner for NFL Coach of the Year honors.

Nobody was even close to the 48-year-old Harbaugh, who received 45 of a possible 50 votes from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the NFL. Despite rubbing some people the wrong way and doing things his way from Day 1 with an uncompromising style, Harbaugh's brilliance in his first season as a NFL head coach could not be denied.

Taking over a team that finished 6-10 as one of the NFL's biggest disappointments in 2010, Harbaugh did more than just lift San Francisco to its first winning season and playoff berth in nine years.

He took the 49ers all the way to their first appearance in the NFC Championship Game since 1997, along the way collecting the team's first NFC West title since 2002 and recording the second-best record in the NFL at 13-3 during the regular season.

Entering the playoffs as the NFC's No. 2 seed, the 49ers then stunned the favored New Orleans Saints 36-32 in a memorable NFC playoff semifinal before San Francisco's best season of the 21st century ended one step away from the Super Bowl after a 20-17 overtime loss to the New York Giants in the conference title game.

Harbaugh became the first rookie coach in NFL history to win 13 games after taking over a team that had a losing record the season before. That also is the third-most victories ever for a rookie coach, trailing the 14-2 seasons produced by George Seifert with the 49ers in 1989 and Jim Caldwell with the Indianapolis Colts in 2009.

Harbaugh is just the second 49ers coach ever to win the Associated Press award, following Bill Walsh, one of Harbaugh's mentors who won the honor in 1981 after leading San Francisco to the first of its five Super Bowl championships.

Harbaugh becomes the first coach to win the award in his rookie NFL season since Mike Smith with the Atlanta Falcons in 2008.

The 49ers rallied behind the team-first mentality and approach of Harbaugh, who played 15 seasons in the NFL at quarterback and was the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year with the Indianapolis Colts in 1995. Before coming to the 49ers, Harbaugh won big at both the University of San Diego and Stanford in his first two jobs as a head coach, turning around the fortunes of losing programs upon his arrival.

Now he's done the same thing at the highest level of football in his first try.

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