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Dear Derek Dooley...

I'm sorry that when your name was first mentioned in connection with this job, after we'd been left in the night by Lane Kiffin and turned down by (at least) Will Muschamp and David Cutcliffe, I said, "...who?"

I'm sorry that I followed it up with, "Oh, you mean Vince's son?"

I'm sorry that I joked that we'd probably choose you over Kyle Wittingham, Randy Edsall, and Kevin Sumlin since I'd actually heard of those other three guys.

I'm sorry that when we did choose you, I went on the radio and gave it a 4 out of 10.

I'm sorry that most of us spent the first several months of your time here thinking more about the other guy, the one who left, than we did about you.  I wonder if that was actually fine with you, since for a while you made us all think that you didn't enjoy talking to the media anyway, and that we were in for nothing but silence or coachspeak for the duration of your time here.

But then you gave us this:

Thanks for that.

Thanks for being honest with us.  For not telling us we were going to sing Rocky Top all night long when we beat Florida, not making bold statements about what this team was capable of that you knew they couldn't realistically uphold.  For making us believe in a process, and then helping us do it willingly instead of begrudgingly.

None of the problems that existed when you got here were your fault.  Thanks for dealing with them so well anyway.

If the situation between a head coach and a fan base is best understood in relational terms, please understand that we were with Coach Fulmer for a very long time, and we had some great times together.  His departure was something between divorce and death for most of us, and turns out we traded him in for a stripper.  When she left too, you were really all we had to turn to.

So we never got the honeymoon period, because this year certainly wasn't it.  It would've been impossible with our circumstances and this roster.  But maybe we're the relationship that starts off poor, with adversity at every turn...but eventually we build something real together, something great.  We expected less from you than anyone else...but the beauty of that is, you've had more room to surprise us.  And maybe the honeymoon will actually show up a year or two down the road...when our talent can afford it, and when we'll actually appreciate it more.

We're both too proud and too jaded to believe in a savior, and we're not the only ones - somewhere a guy who yelled "We want a leader, not a loser!" two years ago is getting ready to enjoy watching his team play for an SEC/BCS Championship.  We're also too smart to think that 6-6 in your first year means this is guaranteed to work.

But what we do know now is that we want it to work - not just because it's in everyone's best interests, but because you kept a team together that had every reason to fall apart, and took us from rock bottom and started the climb.  And also?  We want it to work because, well...turns out, we really like you.  Who knew?

You've made 6-6 more enjoyable than any of us ever thought it could be, and while neither of us wants to stay there very long, right now we'll certainly take it.  We'll take it to Nashville (we think), where we'll fill the stands both in recognition of what you and this team have accomplished...and in hope that we're moving closer to accomplishing more of what we're used to in the very near future.

I'm still not sure if you're this way with the media because you knew you needed to lighten the mood this year, or because it's actually who you are.  I tend to favor the latter...but either way, we appreciate it. 

And if you can be this way after everything we've seen this year, I hope your material gets even better as we do.

You're our coach, and you've had our support for that reason since day one.  But now, you're getting it not just because we were stuck with you back in January...but because we're proud to have you.

We're off to a good start.  Can't wait to see where else you'll take us...and what else you'll have to say about it along the way.

Go Vols.