Tom Thenell, who led the Smoky Hill football team to a 28-13 record and three Class 5A state playoffs appearances in the past four seasons, has stepped down to become the offensive coordinator at Colorado Mesa University. (Photo by Courtney Oakes/Sentinel Colorado)

AURORA | Tom Thenell was a huge hire for the Smoky Hill football program four seasons ago and he’ll leave a big hole in the wake of his departure.

The head coach responsible for turning around the fortunes of the Buffaloes since he took over the program in 2018 — including leading them to back-to-back undefeated regular seasons and three Class 5A state playoff appearances — has stepped down to take the job of offensive coordinator at Colorado Mesa University.

Thenell spoke with players after school Tuesday to deliver the news that he is leaving a program he guided to a 28-13 overall record, which included an 11-1 season in 2019 and 10-1 campaign in 2018. In his last game on the sidelines, the Buffaloes lost a 52-49 shootout to Rock Canyon in the opening round of the state playoffs.

“We would like to thank Tom Thenell for the 4 years he has given Smoky Hill. We wish him all the best on his future at Colorado Mesa University,” the Smoky Hill athletic department sent out via Twitter.

Smoky Hill picked up its first postseason win in decades with a 48-6 win over Overland before it lost to Columbine in the second round. In 2018, the Buffaloes had their undefeated season end with a first round playoff loss to Regis Jesuit.

Additionally, Smoky Hill went undefeated and won back-to-back championships in the Metro 10 League before moving to the Centennial League for the past two seasons.

Offense is something Thenell knows well and his Smoky Hill teams averaged nearly 33.5 points per game over the past four seasons after the Buffs scored just 62 points in 10 games during the 2017 season prior to his arrival.

In the final game of the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season, Thenell’s quarterback — Leslie Richardson III (now at Colorado State-Pueblo) — threw for a school record 654 yards and eight touchdowns. That season, the Buffaloes had the state’s top three receivers in Anthony Harris Jr., Alec Pinkowski and Davien Norman.

Thenell served as head coach at Bear Creek from 1992-2011, a stretch in which he went 147-81 before he took the job at his alma mater, Mullen. He coached the Mustangs for six seasons and finished 34-31, including 5-6 in his last season there in 2017.

Thenell joins a new staff at Colorado Mesa, which hired Miles Kochevar as head coach on Jan. 31.

There are now two openings in Aurora programs ahead of the fall season with Smoky Hill joining Hinkley, which must replace the late T.C. Newland.

Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports


2021: 4-7 overall (1-4 in Centennial League); 2020: 3-4 overall (1-4 in Centennial League); 2019: 11-1 overall (9-0 in Metro 10 League); 2018: 10-1 overall (9-0 in Metro 10 League)