The five bookies' favourite for Sunderland job analysed: What would they bring and would they be keen?
It was only a week ago, though, given the dramatic events that have taken place since, it feels like a lifetime.
Ahead of a trip to Craven Cottage, Sunderland boss Chris Coleman called for clarity on the club’s ownership situation so that the summer’s business, which is sure to be extensive, could begin in earnest.
With the transfer window being brought forward, shutting just days after the 2018/19 season begins, time is of the essence.
“Surely we must learn from what happened last summer?” Coleman said.
“Take nothing for granted in League One – we can’t do what we did in pre-season last season. It is massive that you hit the ground running.
“I’d like to think people have learned lessons from last year and that doesn’t happen this year.”
At that stage, few knew of the deal that would see Coleman out of a job within days. Stewart Donald’s buyout accelerated rapidly once Ellis Short identified him as his favoured buyer and, while Coleman’s departure brought real sadness to many in the fanbase, the clarity above brought some hope to supporters.
Donald is waiting for EFL approval for his takeover and, like Coleman, he knows there is no time to waste.
The number of players coming in this summer will need to be in excess of double figures and, to start the process, he will need to be able to offer assurances as to both who will be in the boardroom and who will be in the dugout.
The hope is that his role as main investor means that the EFL process will be simplified, but there are no guarantees.
Appointing a manager will be his first and most significant decision, particularly given the decision to start afresh with a new face at the helm.
Next term will, without question, be a season where promotion is the sole aim, and so any candidate must be capable both of inspiring the fanbase and navigating what is a notoriously brutal league.
Until the approval arrives, significant developments are unlikely, particularly given that some targets may well be in post at other clubs.
Clearly, targets are being drawn up nevertheless, so we’ve taken a look at some of the bookmakers favourites to assess what they’d bring to the Stadium of Light.
Wilder is the clear favourite in the betting markets and that comes as little surprise.
His Football League record is second to none and, for much of this season, it looked like he might be able to achieve the quite remarkable feat of three straight promotions.
He won League Two with Northampton Town, having saved them from the drop the previous campaign when parachuted in with the club in real trouble.
From there he went to boyhood club Sheffield United, ending their long exile in League One.
They have been superb this season, staying in play-off contention until the final weeks of the campaign.
Their 3-0 drubbing of Sunderland on Boxing Day underlined the strengths of Wilder’s teams. Few star names, but set up well in an organised 5-3-2.
They were more powerful and more competitive than the Black Cats, far from the first team to be humbled by the Blades during the course of the season.
The question, then, is whether Sunderland can realistically expect to attract a manager whose standing has never been higher?
His immediate future is in question, with a row between the club’s co-owners, battling for full control at Bramall Lane, bringing things to a standstill.
Nevertheless, it would clearly be a difficult decision to walk away and, if he did, Sunderland would not be the only club keen.
Appleton quickly developed a formidable reputation as a coach, but he made a false start to his managerial career.
Portsmouth went into administration and were relegated from the Championship, while he left Blackpool for Blackburn after just two months in charge.
He lasted just two days longer there, but, at Oxford United, he was able to show his abilities over a three-year period.
At the club where Stewart Donald has strong links, he won promotion to League One and almost landed a play-off spot thereafter. There were also two Checkatrade Trophy finals.
Appleton then stepped away from frontline management, deeming the opportunity to return to Premier League coaching alongside Leicester City boss Craig Shakespeare too good to turn down.
Whether he would be prepared to step back in to the third tier remains to be seen, though the Foxes have since dispensed with Shakespeare and could be set to do the same with Claude Puel.
Well thought of in the game, and respected for his work with young players, he is an obvious candidate. Like Wilder, Sunderland would not be the only club to think so.
Like Wilder, Cook has established himself as one of the Football League’s most successful managers.
He has three promotions in his last four seasons, two of those as title wins in League Two with Chesterfield and Portsmouth, and latterly in League One with Wigan.
Wigan certainly boasted one of the bigger and better squads at that level this season, but they also caught they eye by becoming one of the few teams in the country to beat Manchester City.
They toppled Pep Guardiola’s side in the FA Cup thanks to a Will Grigg winner and impressed with their approach in the game, aggressive in their pressing right from the off.
Cook has been advised at Wigan by Black Cats legend Peter Reid, and was linked with the role following Simon Grayson’s departure earlier this term.
Like Wilder and Appleton, the biggest question would be whether he felt his long-term ambitions are adequately served in his current post.
It has been a successful start to life with the Latics, so it would be a surprise if he thought not.
McCarthy was asked about the job following Grayson’s sacking and said that, if he was out of contract, he’d return to Wearside in a heartbeat.
That is now the case, following his departure at Ipswich, and he is thought to be open to the idea of a return.
He does not appear currently to be top of the list, but his track record in the Football League is beyond question.
At Ipswich, his relationship with fans broke down over the style of play and what he perceived a ‘boredom’ amongst the support.
His work in difficult circumstances at Sunderland means he is remembered fondly and he would offer a steady hand at the wheel.
Whether it would be an energising appointment is a different question.
Promotion back to the Championship will be absolutely crucial next season.
The last significant parachute payment (the third and final sum drops to around £14million the season after) offers an opportunity that the Black Cats cannot afford to waste.
As such, gambling on a rookie boss, even one with significant coaching experience, would be a surprise decision.
Of course, should Phillips – currently coaching at Derby County – make a fast start to life in the dugout, then the momentum and buzz generated would make the Black Cats a serious force at League One level.