Derek Dooley's toughest opponent is impatience, his and ours

Kevin C. Cox - Getty Images

The long journey of getting the Tennessee Volunteer football program back to where it should be continues, and the kids are getting restless.

On Monday, a fan at the Knoxville Quarterback Club asked Derek Dooley whether the Vols' lack of senior leadership was still a problem. In doing so, he acknowledged that some progress toward that goal had been made, but his question remained. Essentially, he (and each of us) is just like a kid in the back seat of the car staring out the window and lobbing "Are we there yets" at the driver. Dooley took the opportunity to talk about culture, and in doing so he used phrases such as "we’re getting there" and "we’re significantly further along," and he concluded by saying this:

And it’s hard. It’s hard to exercise patience in athletics. It’s especially hard for a fan base.

He backpedaled a bit after the crowd burst into laughter at the last line, by the way, saying that he was fine with that. Because it's not just us, it's him. Earlier, he'd characterized a response to a reporter's question in the immediate aftermath of the loss to Georgia as "snippy." Dooley's the dad behind the wheel, of course, and any parent knows that it's pretty easy to get snippy after hearing "Are we there yet" one too many times.

The irony is that the person asking the question always knows that the answer to the question is "No," which is part of why it's so frustrating. Nobody asks that question when they've arrived. I used to buy some time on long trips with my kids by having this conversation:

Kids: Are we there yet?

Dad: Nope, and you know what? We're never going to get there, either.

Kids: Ha. You're funny.

Dad: Actually, I'm not kidding. We're never going to get there. Really.

Kids: Why not?

Dad: Because as soon as we get there, we'll be "here," and "there" will be somewhere else.

That usually got me about five minutes' peace. And just for a cherry on top, when we'd finally get there . . . um, I mean here . . . I'd draw on Abbott and Costello and tell them that we're not really here, either.) It's neither here nor there. Ha, I kill me.

No, what people are really asking when they utter that phrase, of course, isn't whether they've arrived, but how much longer it will take to get there. The answer to that can be fun and frustrating as well. Just ask Zeno, who put forth the dichotomy paradox a long, long time ago.

The dichotomy paradox "proves" that you can never get where you're going because in order to do so, you first have to go half the distance, and then half of the remaining distance, and so on and so on and so on. No matter how far you go, some distance always remains. Worse, not only is it impossible to reach your destination, it's impossible to even get started because before you can travel the second half of the distance, you have to travel the first half, and before you can travel the first half, you have to go the first half of that and so on and so on and so on into infinity and a blown mind that can only be soothed with ice cream.

So is it impossible for Tennessee to ever reach its goal? Of course not. But progress can be slippery, illusory, and it's full of mind games.

There are "answers" (PDF) to this paradox that are rooted in calculus and physics and other math and sciencey things I actively try to avoid. Me, I think it's just a matter of creating an interesting puzzle using a fallacy that intentionally confuses finite with relative distances. But really, we don't have to get into all of that. Occam says, "Hey, you've gotten there before, right? Okay, then." Experience tells us that the paradox is false.

We Tennessee fans are stuck in the back seat watching the world go by on a very long trip to somewhere. We're well acquainted with all of this confusion about "there" and "here" and "how much further." The malleability of the destination is why our own Will Shelton refuses to entertain discussions of whether "we're back." The "here" is all too often full of frustration and an intense desire to be somewhere, anywhere else. And the incessant "how much further" is why Derek Dooley is snippy when you ask him if he's surprised he's covered some distance in the running game.

Whether he's still behind the wheel when we "arrive," Dooley's right. Patience is hard. It's especially hard when progress is measured in relative terms and when the stakeholders have different goals and destinations in mind.

But do be patient. We'll get there.

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