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SEC coaching hires trending defensively this offseason

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The top offensive coaches in the country are often the popular choice for fans whose team is in the market for a head coach and it's easy to see why. Offense sells. Scoring points and touchdowns is exciting.

During this year's SEC coaching carousel however, defensive coaches have been the trendy choice for school presidents and athletic directors who had openings at Georgia, Missouri and South Carolina where Kirby Smart, Barry Odom and Will Muschamp were respectively hired.

All three were SEC defensive coordinators; only Muschamp has previous head coaching experience. After head coaches with offensive backgrounds made up the majority of the conference in 2015 (on opening day there were 10 with offensive roots, only four with defensive) the next season -- assuming there are no further head coaching changes in the league -- the league will be evenly split with seven of each. Five of them (Muschamp, Odom, Smart, Vanderbilt's Derek Mason and Kentucky's Mark Stoops) reside in the SEC East.

"For the most part I've always thought of the SEC as a defensive league," Smart said at his introductory news conference. "It's a tough, physical league. So you want to play good defense. Historically, the teams with the best defense have been near the top of the conference. So I think that's important to a trademark to have a good program in an SEC Championship is good defense."

Missouri athletic director Mack Rhoades, who hired Odom, said he feels the trend moving in a defensive direction.

"I think to some degree college football is starting to come back to the mean a little bit [with] defenses winning games," Rhoades told ESPN.com. "You look at the teams that are competing at the top: Clemson is really good defensively. Alabama, really good defensively. Michigan State, really good defensively. Oklahoma, really good defensively. I think you're starting to see that fallback to that mean where defense is really important."

All four teams in this year's College Football Playoff rank in the top 21 in scoring defense. Alabama is third, Clemson is 18th, Michigan State is 19th and Oklahoma is 21st.

Since prior to the 2005 season there have been 22 head coaching hires -- not including interim coaches and not including this year's trio -- involving the current 14 SEC members. Of those 22, only seven were head coaches with defensive backgrounds while 15 were offensive-rooted head coaches. The offensive coaches have won at a higher clip -- 497-282, a .637 winning percentage -- compared to the defensive coaches (210-144, .593). Of the 11 SEC titles won in that span, six have gone to offensive head coaches, five to defensive (four of those five belong to Nick Saban).

That doesn't mean there is necessarily a right or wrong answer (Rhoades says, bottom line "the philosophy is find the best guy"), but the trend is interesting to follow.

"Defense still matters in the SEC," Rhoades said.

South Carolina athletic director Ray Tanner, at the news conference to introduce Muschamp, emphasized why his defensive background was important.

"While everybody loves a great offense and running 90 to 100 plays at a time and scoring 48 points, and we would like that too, we also like defense, where somebody can stop it when the other team may be on the run," Tanner said. " A lot of people can score points today, but a lot of people can't stop teams from scoring. I don't think you would question what Coach Muschamp brings on the defensive side of the ball."