Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen has the flu, but rallied enough to attend a banquet in Jackson, Miss., on Tuesday night because, he told the local newspaper, he feared setting off another round of rumors about his future.

He's totally missing the spirit of scuttlebutt season.

Minnesota athletic director Joel Maturi hasn't been seen in public since Saturday, but he has appeared, "Where's Waldo?" style, in cyberspace from Hattiesburg to Hartford this week, chasing a new coach and igniting rumor-mill brush fires that are great fun for fans, radio hosts and message-board posters.

Nature, and sports fans, abhor a vacuum, and Maturi has kept his process of elimination tightly under wraps, making concrete information hard to come by -- or at least, hard to cull from guesses, opinions and fictions that have filled his absence.

In short, candidates generate buzz, then fade or deny they're interested, often in the space of a few hours.

The lack of a he's-the-guy bulletin has created a perception, true or not, that the hunt is going badly and that coaches are turning down the Gophers in mass numbers shortly after being interviewed. Maturi's credibility seems to be taking a beating, and the long interlude between season's end and a new hire isn't helping. Of course, none of that will matter if Maturi's choice wins football games.

One Fox Sports report asserted Tuesday that Kevin Sumlin of Houston and Al Golden of Temple are no longer part of Maturi's search. Air Force's Troy Calhoun is believed to be focused on Colorado's vacancy. Several sources have said San Diego State's Brady Hoke, who met with Maturi 10 days ago, has withdrawn his candidacy -- though the San Diego Union-Tribune noted Tuesday that Hoke, "given several chances to say he's not a candidate [at his weekly news conference], didn't."

"I can't confirm that," Hoke said. "The job was never formally offered to me."

It also was never formally offered -- or even discussed with -- Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora, who became Monday's flavor of the day when word leaked from several sources that Fedora was on Minnesota's campus. But Fedora was in Mississippi, and his athletic director, Richard Giannini, said no contact had been made.

And an e-mail to the Star Tribune on Tuesday insisted that former Tennessee coach Phil Fulmer, who described the job as "not a good fit" last month, was once again a serious candidate. The apparent source of the tip? A month-old Twitter prediction by WCCO radio host Michele Tafoya that had accidentally been reposted, what Tafoya colorfully described as a "Twitter belch."

Mullen, the focus of speculation at Miami, too, has insisted that he's not leaving Starkville after only two seasons with the Bulldogs, that he hasn't even talked to anyone about another job. "[W]ith all the rumors, all I am mulling over is the flu, and what bowl we are going too [sic]," he wrote on Twitter. That could be semantics, since agents are involved -- or it could be the truth.

So what's true and what isn't? Maturi isn't saying, so a network of semi-informed boosters, agents, coaches and observers are. Randy Shannon, fired Saturday by Miami, might get an interview, one rumor has it. Jeff Jagodzinski, the former Boston College coach, had a cyberspace surge Tuesday. A group of former Gophers players is promoting one of their own, Marc Trestman, whose Montreal Alouettes won the CFL Grey Cup for the second consecutive year Sunday. And Randy Edsall of Connecticut seems connected to every opening.

Does the cycle of rumors amaze/amuse/annoy Maturi as he finalizes his decision? "All of the above," he said Tuesday via text.

He got a little more competition this week, too; reports from Bloomington, Ind., describe the Hoosiers' initial candidate list to replace just-fired Bill Lynch as including Hoke, Calhoun, Sumlin, Golden and Edsall.

Hope the Hoosiers enjoy the rumor tornado; it doesn't sound like Maturi is.

"That answer, along with some other interesting facts," Maturi jokingly promised in a text from Miami, Mississippi or somewhere in between, "will be in my book."

Phil Miller • phil.miller@startribune.com