Ex-Sunderland trainee Paul Heckingbottom has emerged as a shock contender to replace David Moyes, as the hunt for a new manager continues.
Aberdeen boss Derek McInnes remains the leading candidate despite jetting off on a pre-planned holiday and the Scot wants the opportunity to take charge at the Stadium of Light.
But the Echo understands Barnsley head coach Heckingbottom is also being considered as an option.
Sunderland, understood to favour an experienced manager, are set to step up their search for a new boss this week and McInnes’ pre-planned holiday is not thought to be an issue.
He isn’t the only name in the frame though, with Burton Albion manager Nigel Clough and Preston North End boss Simon Grayson other contenders alongside Heckingbottom.
Heckingbottom enjoyed a lengthy playing career, turning out for Darlington, Bradford, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley before the 39-year-old turned to management.
Heckingbottom recently insisted it would take a huge job to lure him away from Championship rivals Barnsley, adding he is happy with life at Oakwell.
Sunderland, though, will be one of the biggest clubs in the Championship next season and despite the financial restrictions, the chance to lead the promotion charge back to the Premier League could yet prove a strong enough attraction.
Born and bred in Barnsley, Heckingbottom told The Sheffield Star: “It would take something big to get me away from here.
“A lot of it is just speculation. I’m under contract here and the only way I could go would be if someone came in and gave the money to the club, just like a player.
“My focus has always been on us and getting us better and I don’t think I’d have time to think about anything like that.”
McInnes remains the firm favourite with bookmakers and we understand the Scot has made it clear privately that he would jump at the chance to manage Sunderland, though he would want assurances over the transfer budget and which players are set to leave.
Sunderland return to pre-season training on June 29 but Aberdeen’s summer is equally short due to their participation in the qualifying rounds of the Europa League.
The Dons players are due back in for pre-season training in three weeks, leaving little scope for McInnes and his players to get away for a well-deserved break.
Publicly McInnes has claimed his focus is on Aberdeen and that he would only leave Pittodrie, where he has spent three successful years, if the circumstances were right.
In the aftermath of the cup final defeat to Celtic, McInnes insisted it would take “something special” for him to want to leave Aberdeen.
McInnes told the Scottish press: “I’ve said it often enough, I love working here.
“I think it’s a brilliant club, I feel at home here. It would take something special for me to want to leave.”
McInnes added his focus is on recruitment at Aberdeen with the Dons also braced for a busy summer.
Free agent Garry Monk must also be considered a serious contender for Sunderland given his record at Leeds United.
But his odds have drifted and relegation rivals Middlesbrough are understood to be set for talks with Monk and Nigel Pearson – also linked to Sunderland – this week.