The Black Cats decided to sack manager Simon Grayson last month, having won just three times in 18 games in all competitions this season.
Co-caretaker manager Billy McKinlay has even left the club for West Ham United, leaving Robbie Stockdale in charge – and two weeks on from Grayson's exit, Sunderland are still attempting to find a new boss.
Walter Smith and Ally McCoist
The Sun now report that their hopes of landing Ally McCoist – alongside Walter Smith – have hit a snag, meaning that Barnsley boss Paul Heckingbottom is the new primary target for the job.
It's noted that chief executive Martin Bain worked with McCoist and Smith at Rangers, but the chances of them reuniting at the Stadium of Light have diminished.
McCoist was Smith's assistant at Rangers before taking over as manager in 2011, boasting a 72% win rate during his time in charge at Ibrox, with most of his time spent in the lower reaches of Scottish football.
Now, the attention turns to Heckingbottom, who has won just shy of 33% of his games since taking full-time charge of Barnsley in June 2016, helping nurture a host of young players at Oakwell.
A former Sunderland youngster, Heckingbottom will allegedly be offered a pay rise of around seven times his current earnings, and whilst Barnsley will attempt to stand firm, such a huge increase may be too good to turn down for Heckingbottom - and it may take that kind of offer to tempt him away from his hometown club.