Mike Hamilton worked behind a smokescreen.
But when the Tennessee athletic director started wrapping up his coaching search, at least a few of his tracks were easy to read.
Hamilton may or may not have officially offered contracts to Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, Air Force coach Troy Calhoun or TCU's Gary Patterson during his roughly 48-hour odyssey since losing Lane Kiffin. But each of them went out of their way to shoot down any interest in replacing him before the Vols found somebody who didn't put out a statement confirming they were staying put on Thursday - leading candidate David Cutcliffe of Duke.
"David's a great friend and he's been at Tennessee a long time before," former Vols coach Phillip Fulmer told the News Sentinel. "He knows the culture and knows the people. I think it would be special to have him back in Knoxville.
"I'll endorse that kind of person."
The Vols actually didn't have to wait all that long for somebody to return the favor and endorse the program, but they did have to wade through a few top candidates in the process. Hamilton never addressed any of them specifically and hasn't offered any public comments yet, but the targets he apparently spoke with helped make UT's interest clear.
Muschamp got the ball rolling late on Wednesday, electing to stick with the Longhorns and releasing a statement through a school spokesperson.
"I'm happy to be at Texas and plan to be here a long time," he said.
Patterson followed with a nearly identical sentiment, which put the spotlight squarely on Calhoun midway through the day.
The intensity only increased when reports of a team meeting at the Academy leaked out, prompting yet another denial of interest.
"We are more than grateful and proud to be closely involved with the character building of our cadets and the mission of the United States Air Force Academy," Calhoun said. "We are diligently recruiting and working with our team to prepare for the upcoming season.
"We look forward to coaching and being a part of the Air Force Academy team both on and off the field in 2010."
By that point even Fulmer had released a statement clarifying that he wasn't chasing the UT gig, though his might have stung the school the most.
Fulmer didn't take any direct shots at the administration or Kiffin, but the message was clear anyway. And by the time a North Carolina television station reported that Cutcliffe was headed to UT, it appeared he had got everything he wanted.
"Recent events have been painful and an embarrassment to all of us who care about UT," Fulmer said. "I love the university, I am loyal to my alma mater and am ready to help as the university makes one of the most important decisions in the history of our football program. However, to prevent any misunderstanding, I am not seeking to be a candidate for the head coaching position.
"I am looking forward to embracing the next coach and have some strong beliefs about the kind of man he should be. He must embrace Tennessee's culture and traditions, be mature and of good character, and demonstrate integrity and leadership to our young men who desperately want to be shown the way. He must deserve, earn and keep the trust of our young men -- both present and future."
Hamilton has looked at more than a few options looking for a guy that fit the bill.
There's a paper trail of statements to prove it.