Eric Risberg, AP
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith walks off the field after NFL football practice in Santa Clara, Calif.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Jim Harbaugh arrived as the new coach of the 49ers a year ago, challenged with turning around San Francisco's once-proud franchise in the midst of a lockout and minus the usual offseason preparation time with his players.

He did it, and then some. And he did it his way.

Even Harbaugh himself acknowledged Monday it was no easy accomplishment. A day after his team lost the NFC championship game 20-17 in overtime to the New York Giants to miss a chance at the Super Bowl, Harbaugh regrouped and told his team how proud he is of this special season.

"Who's got it better than us? No-body!" became a nationally recognized mantra for the NFC West champions (14-4), who ended an eight-year stretch without a playoff berth or winning record.