Weis status overshadowing everything else

Every Sunday after a game during his five years as Notre Dame coach, Charlie Weis has held a media session dissecting the previous day's events. Until this week. School officials said a late arrival home from the Pittsburgh game Saturday night was the reason they canceled the Sunday news conference a few hours before it was scheduled to begin.

Notre Dame has blocked tracking access to its university-owned private plane from the web site FlightAware.com, a popular tool often used by fans and media to speculate on the comings and goings of a coaching search.

Taken separately, these two facts may not mean too much. But they just add to the larger context of the one and only story surrounding the Fighting Irish right now: Weis's future.

Perhaps it's just as well that Weis did not meet the media on Sunday. There's no doubt that the majority of the questions he received would have revolved around his job status, and he would have repelled all of them the same way he always has. Just take his quote after the 27-22 loss to Pitt and use it to sum up what he would have said Sunday:

"That's too big picture right now," he said when asked about the future of the program. "I'm short-sighted. The most important thing is getting the team to worry about the last two games."

The coaching question is all anyone else wants to talk about, and rightly so. The 6-4 Irish face a must-win this week against Connecticut, and when was the last time the Irish absolutely needed to beat a team like UConn? The Huskies are a rising program, sure, but they're only 4-5 this year and have never played in a major bowl game. Would beating UConn really change any opinions on Weis?

And even with a victory Saturday, Notre Dame faces a stiff challenge Thanksgiving weekend with a trip to No. 17 Stanford, which just waxed Oregon and USC in back-to-back weeks. The Irish put all of their effort into beating USC at home and came up seven points short; the Cardinal just beat the Trojans by 34 points.

What objective observer would pick Notre Dame to beat Stanford? Weis, after all, has lost 10 straight games against ranked teams.

So the coaching question is one that will hang over this program until athletic director Jack Swarbrick officially announces whether Weis will stay or go. Swarbrick told the Chicago Tribune's Brian Hamilton on Sunday that Weis's buyout -- which has been reported to be $18 million -- is "not a factor."

"It's not a factor because there are other things more important relating to our goals for the program and the experience of the student-athletes," he told the Tribune.

Weis has done many good things, including improving the program's recruiting, overseeing a record-breaking offense, graduating trouble-free players and growing comfortable in his role as ambassador for the school. If Swarbrick thinks those are the most important values for a coach, then Weis should be given another shot.

But if it's about wins and losses -- and let's be honest, it always is -- then nothing that happens against UConn and Stanford should really matter. Swarbrick should go ahead and make that call and get the coaching search started.

Until then, the coaching question will be the cloud that darkens everything around this program.