Retirement had been on Scott Studwell’s mind for a while, which probably felt weird because the man is the definition of a workaholic.
The final push came last summer after Studwell learned that his former Vikings teammate Keith Nord had cancer and wasn’t doing well. Studwell always considered Nord a little brother.
Studwell was on the road scouting college players in September — something he has done for years, always away from home searching for talent — when he left Nord a phone message. Nord’s wife texted back a half hour later. Nord had died earlier that morning at age 61.
“That’s when it kind of finally sunk in that time is getting short,” Studwell said. “There is a lot of living to do.”
The football lifer said goodbye Tuesday by announcing his retirement from the Vikings organization after 42 years as player and scout. Studwell delivered the news in a pre-draft news conference that began with General Manager Rick Spielman fighting to control his emotions and tears.
Studwell poured himself into the organization for four decades. First as a player, then college scout. Vikings employees from various departments and age groups talk about Studwell with reverence. You won’t find a more respected or admired person inside the organization.
Studwell played 14 seasons at linebacker. A tough, intense tackling machine. He amassed a team-record 1,981 tackles, made two Pro Bowls and was inducted into the team’s Ring of Honor.
Jerry Reichow, the longtime executive who ran the team’s scouting department, drafted Studwell in the ninth round in 1977. Reichow said the Vikings might have selected him later if not for a glowing recommendation from former Gophers coach Murray Warmath, who watched Studwell at Illinois and loved the way he played.
“Murray raved about him,” Reichow said. “The rest of us didn’t have him up that high and so we finally took him and said, ‘Damn, Murray was right and we were all wrong.’ ”
Studwell joined front office after his playing career, eventually overseeing the college scouting department, which is a dream job for anyone who loves collecting frequent flyer miles and hotel points.
Studwell estimated spending 225 nights a year away from home. Year after year, one college town after the next. Though professionally rewarding, his job demanded personal sacrifice. Now he wants to give all of himself to Jenny, his wife of 35 years, their three children and three grandchildren.
“Spending a life on the road is not easy on her and wasn’t easy on the kids,” he said. “I missed a lot of time with my kids and that is something I have to make up for. I also owe it to my grandkids.”
Studwell’s work ethic became legendary inside the organization. He is a grinder, his love of hard work matched only by his loyalty.
He stayed with the organization after Spielman was hired in 2006 as vice president of player personnel, a job that Studwell wanted. The two became close friends, as evident in Spielman’s tearful announcement Tuesday.
“You can’t replace a Scott Studwell in your organization,” he said.
One of my favorite images of Studwell: In 2014, the Gophers football team allowed me to re-watch all 254 of running back David Cobb’s carries that season. It was early in the morning. The meeting rooms were empty. Except one room. As I walked past, I saw Studwell in there alone, watching video and taking notes. He looked like he’d been there for hours.
He did that every day at schools across the country. Hunker down in a film room, remote in hand, studying prospects to see if any would be a good fit for the Vikings.
“He knows everybody in football everywhere,” Reichow said. “He wasn’t satisfied to look at the top 100, 200, 300 [prospects]. He had to look at 1,200 guys. I’d say, ‘What do you have scouts for? Let them go out and get some of that information for you.’ That’s just the way he is. Same way he played football. He played hard.”
Studwell doesn’t do anything halfhearted. The Vikings host a playground build for an elementary school in need every spring. Without fail, Studwell arrives early in his work boots, grabs a wheelbarrow and starts hauling concrete.
His retirement at the end of May will allow him to slow down and enjoy his family more. Maybe the grinder will put his feet up for once.