Owner Ellis Short and director of football Roberto De Fanti - who was only appointed in June - now face the onerous task of finding the right man to stabilise a club that has one point from five games and signed 14 new players this summer.
Though the presence of the rather obscure De Fanti, who previously worked as an agent, offers Sunderland a semblance of continuity, the North-East club must urgently get this appointment right if they are to avoid a protracted relegation battle.
So who are the bookies tipping to get the job at the Stadium of Light?
Roberto Di Matteo (evens)
Ordinarily, a manager with a Champions League (and FA Cup) win on his CV would likely be unattainable for a club of Sunderland’s stature but Di Matteo comes with a couple of caveats. His success at Chelsea – which was arguably rather fortunate given how close Barcelona were to eliminating his side and the numerous chances Bayern Munich squandered in the final - leaned heavily on his senior players; and his time in charge of West Brom, though it contained a promotion to the Premier League, ended rather unimpressively.
This means a move to Sunderland could appeal to the Italian – rather than having any bigger aspirations - and by virtue of his shared nationality and reported personal friendship with De Fanti he is an obvious leading contender. The genial Di Matteo has a far less confrontational approach to management than Di Canio and his arrival would help mollify a dressing room apparently left on the brink of revolt by the strict regime of the previous boss. Di Matteo also preaches an attacking, attractive philosophy.
Tony Pulis (9/2)
Sunderland air-traffic controllers be warned: if Pulis gets the job then planes cruising in the vicinity of the Stadium of Light will have to watch out for high-flying balls. A vote for Tony Pulis is a vote for long-ball football, long throws and a team of giants; a team that relies on physicality over technique and is not afraid to push the boundaries of acceptability in order to unsettle opponents.
Though it will never appeal to football aesthetes, without question this method works: Pulis kept Stoke in the Premier League for six seasons - mostly comfortably - before the locals finally tired of his style of play. If Sunderland want a manager who will keep them in the league and prioritise solidity over flair, then there are few better options than the Welshman. The question is whether, despite an extensive summer recruitment drive, Sunderland have players with the characteristics Pulis demands.
Gus Poyet (5/1)
The rather bizarre and acrimonious nature of Poyet’s departure from Brighton – which culminated in him being suspended and then learning of his sacking when live on television – means the former Chelsea manager has minor stigma attached to him. Much of that stems from a leaked email which cast him in a very poor light, a memo in which he furiously upbraided Brighton employees over a poo found on the floor of the away dressing room before Crystal Palace beat his side 2-0 in a Championship play-off semi-final.
Poyet undoubtedly enjoyed success with the club, steering them into the Championship, making a number of astute signings and instilling an attractive style of play. Still, concerns persist over his ego – a real concern when it comes to replacing Di Canio. Spanish winger Vicente said following his release on a free transfer that "[Poyet] is the worst person I've come across in football. For me he is a selfish person, very egocentric … What I think is unacceptable is that the manager makes fun of his players. I've seen things here that I have never seen in my career."
Alex McLeish (8/1)
The Scot has won two SPL titles, two Scottish Cups, three Scottish League Cups and the English League Cup in what has been a successful career in terms of silverware, but the gleam of his spell at Rangers – where he won a domestic treble in 2003 - has faded badly in recent seasons.
Now McLeish is more synonymous with a desperately poor style of play that put an end to his ill-fated time at Aston Villa after only one season – a season which witnessed a club record of only four home wins, and saw Villa avoid relegation by only two points. Having joined from great rivals Birmingham City – where he won the League Cup in 2011 – it could be argued McLeish was doomed from the start, but he also led the Blues to relegation prior to his cross-city switch. Following his time at Villa he becamse as Nottingham Forest manager, but spent only two months there before quitting over a transfer policy dispute. He has a point to prove.
Steve McClaren (12/1)
The former England manager’s status has slipped to such an extent in recent seasons that this summer he missed out on landing the England Under-21 job to Gareth Southgate and now works as a coach under Harry Redknapp at QPR. A former protégé of Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, McClaren’s managerial career has been mixed: winning the League Cup with Middlesbrough in 2004 and the Eredivisie title with Twente in 2010 are obvious highlights, unimpressive spells with Wolfsburg and Nottinghma Forest less so.
His time in charge of England will always come to define him of course, and particularly a vicious downpour at Wembley in November 2007 that forced McClaren to reach for his brolly in a futile attempt to stop the sky falling in around him as Croatia prevented England from qualifying for Euro 2008. McClaren never convinced as national team manager – he was punished for some strange tactical approaches and even more questionable team selections – and he is not famed for a particularly progressive style of play or a cutting-edge approach to management.
Other candidates: Kevin Ball (16/1), Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (20/1), Neil Lennon (20/1), Gianfranco Zola (25/1), Alan Curbishley (33/1).
Who do you think should be Sunderland's next boss? Have your say below!