As another Jimmy Clausen pass fell incomplete and the final seconds expired on another Notre Dame loss Saturday night at the Coliseum, Fighting Irish Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick stood expressionless on the sideline.
When the game ended and Swarbrick finally stepped onto the field, a few reporters approached in a futile effort to learn whether the clock was ticking on the tenure of embattled Coach Charlie Weis.
Swarbrick was predictably measured in his response, saying that nothing had changed from his stance of several weeks ago and that he planned to assess the football program just as he does every athletic program at the school.
"You evaluate based on the available data," Swarbrick said, "and we have new data coming in all the time."
The data available after Notre Dame's 38-3 loss to USC: The Irish are 6-6 and headed for a lower-tier bowl, one season after a 3-9 finish, the worst in school history.
Perhaps more damning for Weis, a purported offensive genius groomed by New England Coach Bill Belichick, was the fact that his team couldn't move the ball with any regularity against the Trojans. The Irish mustered 91 yards, with 53 coming in the fourth quarter after USC had built a 31-0 lead.
Notre Dame did not record a first down until the final play of the third quarter, prompting Trojans fans to rise to their feet in mock applause when James Aldridge broke off a 15-yard run.
"You can see the discrepancy between their football team and our football team is very wide," said Weis, whose team has been outscored by USC 76-3 the last two years.
That could be a big problem for Weis, whose tenure more closely mirrors those of Irish flops Gerry Faust and Tyrone Willingham than legends Ara Parseghian and Lou Holtz. Weis' four-year record stands at a not-so-sterling 28-21.
Weis sidestepped questions about his future, saying, "I'm not concerned with that right now. I'm more concerned with the health of my team, the spirit of my team, and going on the road and recruiting. . . . I'm the head football coach at Notre Dame. When the time comes in my career, either by my choice or their choice, then I'm not."
Senior Kyle McCarthy said Weis should not be blamed for his team's shortcomings.
"We're a couple of plays away from being a 9-3 team, and that falls on the players," McCarthy said. "The coaches had the right motivation and the right schemes."
Said Clausen, who completed 11 of 22 passes for 41 yards with two interceptions: "We're not that far away. In three games we had double-digit leads [and lost]. That's on the players, not the coach. Coach Weis is our coach and he lights a fire under us every single day, every time we take the field."
Unfortunately for Weis, his players will not ultimately decide his fate. Swarbrick said no decision would be made until his review was completed, a process that could be delayed by the fact that both the athletic director and Weis are traveling this week.
But Swarbrick said money would not influence that decision, even though Weis stands to net millions should the Irish opt for a buyout.
"As a university, we make our decisions based on the best interests of the students," Swarbrick said.