Day 100 at the Academy of Light.

No, this is not a reality TV show, nor is it merely life through the looking glass at a football club. Rather it is Sunderland’s search for a new head coach moving through its fourteenth week and into triple digits on the day count.

February 19 was the day Michael Beale’s short-lived Sunderland tenure came to an end. The Beale experiment was tarnished by a lack of results, a lack of form and identity and a series of off field issues which led to the Sunderland hierarchy taking ‘full accountability’ for the decision to change head coach in December after the club’s ‘desire to improve’ outright failed when swapping Tony Mowbray for the former Rangers boss.

Beale lasted just 63 days on Wearside, 37 fewer than the length of time Sunderland have now gone without finding his permanent successor. In the interim period, Mike Dodds provided something of a stopgap until the end of the season – a season which significantly deteriorated in 2024 with Sunderland finishing 16th in the Championship.

That decline has added pressure and further significance onto the club’s next appointment and, while no news can sometimes be considered good news, with the club’s continued search heading into June, it may soon start to cause a bigger concern.

In the final week of the season, Dodds addressed the need for the club to take further ownership of the current search for a replacement, notably majority shareholder Kyril Louis-Dreyfus, given the lack of dialogue supporters have received from the Swiss-French businessman since taking over at the Stadium of Light.

We Are Sunderland: Mike Dodds replaced Michael Beale as interim head coach for the final 13 games of Sunderland's Championship seasonMike Dodds replaced Michael Beale as interim head coach for the final 13 games of Sunderland's Championship season (Image: Ian Horrocks)

“I’m not going to speak for other people, but I don’t think it needs any kind of statement,” Dodds explained to We Are Sunderland. “But actions speak louder than words. That’s the old phrase, isn’t it?” Dodds would continue by suggesting the direction of the club has become rather murky in recent months, given the changes since December. But the overarching question would be whether that mood has changed in the time since? The simple answer would suggest not.

Dodds remained stoic throughout the final weeks of the season whenever quizzed on who was set to be appointed – an approach which sometimes leant itself to an element of cloak and dagger, only for time to support the notion that Dodds was indeed in the dark over any potential decision, with the club still to appoint a new head coach.

We Are Sunderland considered the need for further clarity upon the conclusion of the season after Sunderland fell to their 22nd league defeat of the campaign against Sheffield Wednesday almost four weeks ago. The silence remains deafening around Wearside. When the doors closed at the Stadium of Light on May 4, there was hope an appointment would soon be forthcoming, given the club had afforded themselves a 13-game, 11-week buffer in their search, and still we wait as the tumble weed goes for another lap around the Academy of Light’s Cleadon perimeter.

In that time, the club have gone back and forth and back once more with a string of names linked with the vacancy, including the likes of Will Still, Danny Rohl, Rene Maric, Bo Svensson, Paul Heckingbottom and Liam Rosenior the constants – We Are Sunderland understands at least one unnamed candidate has also been under consideration.

Recent weeks, however, have seen that list of names whittle down with Rohl staying at Sheffield Wednesday and Svensson joining Union Berlin. Austrian development coach Maric appears set to remain with Bayern Munich while the availability of Heckingbottom throughout this process suggests for the 46-year-old not to have been appointed by now would likely rule him out.

Still remains the current favourite for the role having held admirers at the Stadium of Light throughout the course of the last six months, and more so following his abrupt exit from Stade de Reims earlier this month. The 31-year-old held talks with Norwich City before they moved in a different direction, with Denmark's Johannes Hoff Thorup set to take over at Carrow Road, with Still remaining in the frame on Wearside.

We Are Sunderland: Will Still remains in contention to take over as Sunderland's new head coachWill Still remains in contention to take over as Sunderland's new head coach (Image: Image: Matthieu Mirville / DPPI)

Norwich’s swift activity is another cause of frustration among Sunderland supporters as they, along with Plymouth Argyle - who have completed the appointment of Wayne Rooney, appear to have fired and hired within the weeks since the end of the season. It begs the question as to how Sunderland’s process has transpired this way, with the collective assumption of a need to appoint quickly being brushed aside.

“I can only focus on the controllables and whether they do it next week or whether they do it in a few weeks’ time it’s something that’s out of my control,” Sunderland captain Luke O’Nien told We Are Sunderland. “I will focus on what I can do and that’s the pre-pre-season schedule the club have given us, and when someone does come in I’ll look forward to meeting them.

“But whenever the club [makes the appointment] that’s out of my hands, that’s up to them. What will be, will be.”

For O’Nien, and the rest of the Sunderland squad, the focus will be on that return to pre-season and how they, as players, can put right what went wrong over the course of the second half of the season, with just five wins to their name this calendar year.

Those plans, however, will sharp be put into place with players set to return for pre-season duty in around four weeks’ time at the Academy of Light, where they will hope to be greeted by a new head coach.

“I’ve enjoyed the last few weeks and whoever they bring in the processes we’ve put in place since Mike Dodds has been in charge have got to keep developing and growing,” said O’Nien. “It’s important myself and other players reinforce that from day one of pre-season.




“What annoys me the most this season is how good Mike Dodds and Procts [Michael Proctor] are, and Murts [Graeme Murty] and Ali [Alessandro Barcherini], and it hasn’t been reflected in the table and in the results. Those guys have taken charge of the team when, theoretically, we’ve been at our worst because we’ve lost managers.

“They’ve had a hard job and they’ve given us information and have worked really hard – it’s actually the most I’ve enjoyed working under a staff but there comes a point where they’ve given us every bit of information and we just haven’t executed the game plan as a group. They’ll take the responsibility but I’m saying now a lot of that is on the players for not executing the game plan because they’ve given us everything. I’m disappointed I, and the group, didn’t give them more.

“Who will take charge next year? I’m not sure. But how good those coaches are, that will show in time when they get the results they deserve because, in my opinion, they’re nothing short of first class and I’ve loved working under them.”

The essence of this story, however, isn’t necessarily in the process. Nor is it about how many days, weeks or months those processes continue to take. Sunderland have been here before, almost 20 years ago when sacking Mick McCarthy in March 2006 with the club steamrollering its way to, at the time, the worst ever Premier League season in history with just 15 points amassed. McCarthy was sacked following a 2-1 defeat at Manchester City with 10 games of the season remaining as Kevin Ball took caretaker charge.

We Are Sunderland: Kevin Ball was placed in caretaker charge of Sunderland in 2006 following Mick McCarthy's sackingKevin Ball was placed in caretaker charge of Sunderland in 2006 following Mick McCarthy's sacking

Like Dodds this season, Ball saw out the remainder of the campaign before a prolonged post-season period ensued ahead of Niall Quinn’s self-made appointment in July 2006, some 141 days after McCarthy’s sacking. By that reckoning, there may still be some time to run in Sunderland’s search this time around.

The turning of the calendar’s next page into June brings some significance, in that it draws an official line under the 2023-24 campaign, with the season’s finale of the Champions League final all that’s left to play out before the European Championship’s take centre stage in Germany in little over a fortnight. The beginning of the new month also allows new roles to begin, as we have seen elsewhere with the likes of Liverpool’s appointment of Arne Slot, for example.

But while the desire to finalise an appointment is palpable by this stage, the reality is that any new head coach won’t really be able to get to work until players return for duty late next month as they all currently enjoy their break from football.

The day may mark number 100 of Sunderland’s search for a new head coach since Beale’s departure, but the more important reality is what’s to come over the next 100 days. By that point, a new head coach will have taken charge of their first month of the new season in the Championship and will have seen the closure of the transfer window.

However long is left to run in this current search, it’s the outcome of those two factors which will end up being more important to Sunderland's future.