Mike Sherman
Mike Sherman was dismissed on Thursday after four seasons at Texas A&M. REUTERS

Texas A&M football coach Mike Sherman was dismissed Thursday night, despite athletic director Bill Byrne telling reporters that Sherman would likely return next season.

Sherman was 25-25 in four seasons as the Aggies' head coach, but was never able to put together an extremely successful season. Texas A&M came into the 2011 season with high aspirations, but struggled to a disappointing 6-6 record after blowing multiple leads late in games, including against Oklahoma State and Arkansas.

Sherman had three years remaining on his contract and will get a $5.8 million buyout for his early dismissal. The decision was made by the school's Board of Regents, according to OrangeBlood's Chip Brown, after going back and forth on whether it should dismiss its well-known coach.

Now Texas A&M is expected to aggressively pursue Houston coach Kevin Sumlin for its recently vacated position. Sumlin, who has guided the Cougars to an undefeated season and Top 10 ranking, is also being pursued by Arizona State, but the Texas A&M job is likely more appealing.

Texas A&M's impending move to the SEC would offer Sumlin an opportunity to compete against the best football teams in the country, while essentially ensuring that if he replicates this year's undefeated season, that he'll get a national championship opportunity.

Additionally Sumlin already resides in nearby Houston and wouldn't have to uproot his family to move more than 1,000 miles away like he would if he accepted the Arizona State job. Sumlin would be an ideal fit for Texas A&M, especially due to his high-powered offenses, but there's no guarantee that he'll be offered the job or accept it. He also has some familiarity with the program from his time as an A&M assistant from 2001-02.

In addition to Sumlin, Texas A&M will target Boise State coach Chris Peterson, Louisville coach Charlie Strong, Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, and Southern Mississippi's Larry Fedora, according to reports.

Peterson has been a hot name for job openings over the last few years, including recently with UCLA and North Carolina, but has never indicated any interest in leaving Boise State. He recently pulled himself out of the running for the UCLA job, through an intermediary, and appears settled in his current situation.

Louisville's Strong could be a strong option for Texas A&M, especially if the Cardinals managed to get a BCS berth, but he doesn't have quite the name cache of Peterson or Sumlin. He has a strong reputation from his days as a Florida assistant under Urban Meyer, but has managed a relatively mediocre 14-11 record at Louisville.

Nick Saban's top assistant Kirby Smart has been mentioned for head coaching jobs in the past, but has yet to leave his boss' side. In 2009, Smart was named the nation's best assistant coach and got a massive pay raise in 2010 that puts him amongst the highest paid assistant coaches in the country. His defensive prowess could prove to be a boon if hired at Texas A&M, which has struggled this past year in stopping high powered offenses, but questions remain whether Smart would leave Alabama for another SEC program.

Another name bandied about is Iowa State's Paul Rhoads, but more as a suggestion than a viable candidate for Texas A&M. Rhoads led ISU to a huge win over previously undefeated Oklahoma State and is considered to be one of the best up-and-coming coaches in the country.

The Texas A&M opening immediately becomes the best potential job available, though A&M could have to compete with other viable schools for its list of candidates. Arizona State, Ole Miss, UNC, and UCLA are also considered to be high-profile job opportunities, but don't offer quite the fanbase, facilities, and money that Texas A&M has access to.