With Sunday's 23-10 win over the Carolina Panthers, Jim Harbaugh became the first coach to have a historic distinction in the post-1970 merger era. He is the only person to take a team to the conference championship game in his first three seasons as an NFL head coach.
DE Ray McDonald, who has been with the team since 2007, thanked his head coach for the turnaround. In four seasons prior to Harbaugh, he had combined record of 26-38 with the 49ers.
"When Harbaugh turned this team around, I have to give credit to him," McDonald said after the game. "Our coaches and staff are a big reason why we're in the NFC Championship game."
The most notable coach prior to the 1970 AFL-NFL merger to take their team to three consecutive championship games is Vince Lombardi, who did it twice from 1960-1962 and 1965-1967. Lombardi won five NFL Championships including Super Bowls I and II in those six years.
In his first year in 2011 season, he took a 6-10 49ers team and turned them around into a 13-3 team before a loss in the NFC Championship game to the New York Giants. Prior to Harbaugh, the 49ers had eight seasons where they didn't finish over .500 and seven of those years had a losing record.
When asked about his expectations of the team when taking over, Harbaugh wanted nothing but the best. The 49ers were building for something that no one except the players and fans expected.
"[I] had expectations for a great first day of practice and great meetings in the first day of practice," Harbaugh said on Monday. "And I think somebody even asked me that the very first day of practice, ‘What were the expectations? What do you think your record’s going to be? etc.' And I honestly gave, my answer was I had great expectations for our very first day."
The head coach credited his staff and players for rising to the occasion after several of them have suffered seasons with a losing record. It was only in the 2009 season where they finished 8-8 under Mike Singletary.
San Francisco lost four games in the first half of 2010 by three points or fewer with Singletary as the head coach. Harbaugh has helped the team get over the hump and fortunes were reversed as they have won three out of the last four games which were decided in the final minute. The 49ers also won 23-20 against the Green Bay Packers with a last second field goal.
While he is in charge of leading the team, Harbaugh chose to talk about his players for executing everything on the field. He said he can only do so much, but everything is working from chemistry to fundamentals which have built up to this moment.
"I block and tackle nobody," Harbaugh said. "Our players have done a phenomenal job, our coaches have done a great job and it’s been a team effort where everybody does a little and it adds up to a lot. But it’s a great zip code to live in, what our team has accomplished.”