A framed Purple No. 55 jersey now overlooks the Vikings Draft Room, a nod to a man who has poured all of himself into this organization.
Freshly placed high on the back wall, the jersey has a view of dozens of scouts, coaches and front-office personnel wearing T-shirts with Scott Studwell’s likeness on them. Nearly all of Studwell’s colleagues also are sporting beige baseball caps that feature his number.
The group can take a deep breath. The exhaustive work to prepare for the 2019 NFL Draft has reached its conclusion, but not before a whopping 12 selections by Minnesota.
The group gathers for one last tribute to a legendary figure within the franchise.
When the man himself stands up to speak, he looks at the floor, searching for the words he wants to say.
How can 42 years of blood, sweat and tears fit in a three-minute speech?
How does one convey the time, effort and commitment put in over the past four-plus decades?
What is the best way to express the sentiment for a place where you have spent the majority of your life?
“I’ve been looking for words that reflect on these last 42 years. It’s hard to sum up the experiences I’ve had here,” Studwell says on the night of April 27, a Saturday. “I guess all I can say is that I appreciate everybody’s loyalty in here. I appreciate everybody’s work ethic. I appreciate — probably more so than most — I appreciate everybody’s friendship. It’s been a journey that’s been crossed by so many amazing people.
“It’s rare, in an industry where there are so many egos and so much money to be made and everybody is looking for that big carrot, but the thing I’m probably most proud of with this organization and this football team and all the people I’ve played with and worked with, is that every day you come to work here, I know that you’ve got my back,” Studwell continues. “And I hope you know that I’ve got your back, too. As long as we continue to do that, we’re going to have a chance.
“I love you guys to death, and I’m going to miss being here,” Studwell adds. “But it’s time to step away and look from the outside in for the first time in a long time.”
After 42 seasons as a renowned player and dedicated scout, Scott Studwell has retired from the Minnesota Vikings.
The hole he leaves cannot be underestimated.
“You can’t replace a Scott Studwell in your organization,” said Vikings General Manager Rick Spielman. “That’s an impossible task to do.”
'Nobody would outhustle him'
Bud Grant was growing impatient.
The rounds were passing by in the 1977 NFL Draft and Grant, the future Hall of Fame head coach, kept circling back to a linebacker from the University of Illinois.
Finally, in the ninth round and with the 250th overall pick, Grant pounded the table hard enough for the Vikings to draft Scott Studwell, a player the coach had never even seen on film.
“We went down the list and I’d say, ‘What about this Studwell?’ And, ‘Well, he isn’t big enough.’ And then, ‘What about this Studwell?’ in the next round – ‘Well, he’s not fast enough’ – and go down to the next round, and I said, ‘What about this Studwell?’ And they said, ‘Well, he doesn’t have good hands,’ ” Grant recalled of conversations with scouts. “I said, ‘Yeah, but he makes all these tackles. So what’s the matter with him?’ ‘Well, he’s not fast enough, not good enough, doesn’t have good hands, blah, blah, blah.’ But I said, ‘Yeah, but the tackles. How many games has he missed?’ ‘None.’
“They kept giving me all these excuses, and then when [the ninth round] came around, I said, ‘I don’t care what names you have on your board. We’re drafting Studwell,’ ” Grant said. “And that’s how Studwell got here. I had never seen him on film, but I read that he made all these tackles, he played every game, and he never got hurt. He came here and did the same thing.”
Jerry Reichow, a longtime Vikings scout, said the Vikings would soon find out that while they had a bunch of information on Studwell, there were some things about him that were immeasurable.
“He went to the East-West [Shrine] Game and [we thought,] ‘Studwell, he’s a good looking kid and all this stuff,’ “Reichow recalled. “But the guy that loved him was [former Gophers Head Coach, Vikings assistant coach and scout] Murray Warmath. He said, ‘This is a tough guy here.’
“Well, OK, there were a lot of tough guys, but the thing you didn’t know about Studwell was the intelligence factor and how he could that lead that defense,” Reichow added. “That didn’t show up then like it did afterwards.”
Studwell arrived at Vikings Training Camp in Mankato with high hopes, but wasn’t sure what to expect, especially as a late-round rookie on a team that had recently been to three Super Bowls in a four-year span and had made the playoffs in eight of the past nine seasons.
But Studwell’s spot on the team became a little clearer as he progressed through a hellacious first training camp.
“It probably had a lot to do with being in the right place at the right time. They had lost one of their tenured linebackers, so there was basically kind of a spot open,” Studwell said. “And about halfway through camp, they cut another veteran linebacker who had been in the league for a few years.
“So I had a conversation with Jocko Nelson, who was the linebackers coach at the time,” Studwell added. “He basically told me, ‘You’re going to make this football team unless you mess it up.’ That was encouraging … in certain ways.”
Studwell started six games in his first three seasons with the Vikings, playing as a backup and on special teams, willing to do anything possible to see the field.
But his role and productivity began to grow, especially when he became a full-time starter in the 1980 season. Soon enough, he became the leader of a defense once spearheaded by the Purple People Eaters.
Former teammates recalled Studwell’s piercing blue eyes forming a steely gaze on the field, a trademark along with a uniform that somehow always seemed to be bloodstained by the time the game was over.
“Nobody would outhustle him. Listen, Stud was not the fastest linebacker, and he was not gifted with great speed,” said former Vikings punter Greg Coleman, who was Studwell’s teammate for 10 seasons. “But his [play] recognition … he studied the game. He knew tendencies and would call out where the ball was going before the play would even start.
“There were a few players that had that uncanny ability, and he was one of them because he did the homework and the classwork. That’s why he was always around the ball,” Coleman added. “He was just there, bloody and all. It didn’t matter what game and what color uniform whether it was Purple or white, Stud was going to get bloody.”
Former Vikings defensive tackle Doug Sutherland played with Studwell for four seasons with Minnesota.
“Stud liked to hit people and was just a little but crazy,” Sutherland recalled with a laugh. “And he was a good leader. When he stepped in there, it was still Carl Eller, Jim Marshall, Alan Page …. and they didn’t like rah-rah guys. But he had some fire and kept everybody going and kept us all in line.
“He was a great hitter and was so intense all the time. That’s probably the word that comes to mind,” Sutherland said. “He had these eyes that would stare right through you. If he gave you that look, you knew you were in trouble, especially on the other team. He didn’t take much crap from anybody.”
Even those who watched the Vikings from afar always came away impressed with Studwell’s relentless effort and dedication to the game.
Spielman recently noted that his brother, Chris, idolized the linebacker when the two were growing up in Ohio. Chris Spielman later spent 10 years in the NFL and was an All-Pro linebacker in 1991 with the Lions.
“My brother was always a linebacker, and I was a quarterback,” Rick Spielman said. “He always tried to tailor his game, when he was coming up through high school, after Stud and what he represented on the field — how he played and the effort he played with and the intensity and all that.”
While Studwell turned into a fan favorite, he also became one of the most iconic players in franchise history.
Studwell spent his entire career in Purple, playing in 214 career games, including 12 in the postseason. He is one of five Vikings to appear in more than 200 regular-season games and holds team records for tackles in a game (24 against Detroit in 1985), in a season (230 in 1981) and most consecutive seasons of leading Minnesota in tackles (six, 1980-85).
A two-time Pro Bowler who helped the Vikings reach the 1977 and 1987 NFC Championship Games, Studwell gave his all for 14 seasons with the Vikings.
And by the time Studwell retired after the 1990 season, Studwell stood alone in team history with 1,981 combined career defensive and special teams tackles.
“It’s an accomplishment, obviously, and certainly something I’m very proud of. But records are made to be broken, and at some point in time, maybe it will get broken. If it does, it does,” Studwell said. “But I guess it’s a testament to being able to stay healthy. When I came into the league, it was a different game back then. Everybody ran the football back in those days, so much more so than they do now.
“There were some great players in the league at that time, and I played against some of the best backs in the history of the league over the course of my career,” Studwell added. “It’s certainly something that I’m very proud of, but it wasn’t anything that I set out to do. It just happened.”
The Vikings inducted Studwell into the team’s Ring of Honor in 2009 as the 18th person at the time to accomplish that feat.
But by then, Studwell was already well into the second phase of his career with the Vikings.
'He’s respected more than anyone in that room'
In the weeks and months leading up to each NFL Draft, the Vikings gather their scouts, coaches and front-office types inside the draft room for vital meetings that help shape the team’s board.
Spielman is the ultimate decision maker on draft day, but he gives all persons in the room a chance to say their piece on any given player during the debate process.
And oftentimes, the conversation has ended with a statement by Studwell, who is as respected and revered as anyone in the room.
“We go around the room and say our opinion on a guy when we do a film study. When he speaks, everyone listens. He has a different eye for this,” said Kelly Kleine, the Vikings College Scouting Coordinator. “We all have to say our opinion, but then Stud talks, and he always knows what to say. If we have a discussion about a couple players, or people aren’t agreeing on something, then Rick goes to Stud and asks Stud. He just always knows what to say … it’s so impressive.
“He’s not afraid to say his opinion, and no one is, but he relates it back to the coaches or the scouts from an All-Star game. Rick is going to be the ultimate decision-maker, and he always is, but Rick really, really cherishes Stud’s opinion and really listens to him,” Kleine added. “I think that helps Rick a lot in making big decisions. Stud has seen the whole overview and knows the whole process and if they have spiraled up or spiraled down. We can get stuck in draft meetings, but he has a way of saying, ‘OK, go back here. Or remember this part of it.’ ”
Vikings Vice President of Player Personnel and Assistant General Manager George Paton added: “When he talks, he’s respected more than anyone in that room. No disrespect to Rick. [Studwell has] been around it. He has so much common sense and so much knowledge and is so intelligent, everything he says makes sense. It doesn’t mean he’s always right, but he’s not afraid to say it. It’s easy to agree with everyone, but he doesn’t care. He’s going to say how he feels. We’re going to miss that. He’s an incredible voice in our draft room and in our meetings.”
As he sat in his office a little more than a week after the 2019 NFL Draft, Spielman reflected on the impact that Studwell has each spring as the Vikings prepare to bring in a new crop of talent.
“As I go around the room, I usually circle back to where Stud feels everything is,” Spielman said. “I value his opinion so much since we’ve been together, and he’s been a voice of reason in there.
“He listens to everything that’s being said in there, and he can decipher through that and then give his own opinion [about a player or another person’s opinion],” Spielman added.
Yes, almost 30 years after playing his final snap for the Vikings, Studwell has still had a hand in shaping the organization.
While he hung up his cleats after the 1990 season, he only went away for a few months before he was hired on June 1, 1991, in a hybrid role as a quality control coach and player development specialist.
But he quickly found his niche as a scout. It turns out that the ferocious linebacker was pretty good at discovering talent and determining how prospects would project to Minnesota’s roster.
“I had the foundation and the background, and I knew how to identify what people were doing offensively and what people were doing defensively, and the game was not as complicated back then as it is today,” Studwell said. “It was really more learning how to manage your time and learning how to create contacts at schools. The evaluation piece of watching tape and watching film was some of the easy stuff.
“Being gone for extended periods of time with young kids at home … really asking my wife to raise our kids almost single-handedly, it was hard,” Studwell said. “It was hard on me, and it was hard on her, and it was hard on the kids. That was probably the biggest challenge, trying to balance the new professional career with my life at home.”
By the time Studwell was in the second part of his Vikings career, he had been married to Jenny for seven years. And even as the couple eventually had three children, Jenny Studwell said the family stuck together, despite the demands of road trips, long nights and missed moments that a scout endures.
“He was gone basically 10 months a year and somehow it all worked out,” Jenny Studwell said. “But it was difficult having him come in and out of my life and the kids’ lives. I think it was hardest on him though.
“But man alive, when he was home, he was fully immersed and present,” she added. “He is a really good dad and husband.”
All in all, Studwell spent 28 seasons in the personnel department and was the team’s Director of College Scouting from 2002 to 2014.
He has played a role in helping the Vikings draft 242 players between 1991 through 2019, scouting iconic players such as Randy Moss, Adrian Peterson and Harrison Smith.
And of the nearly 250 players that were drafted in Minnesota over the past 28 years, 14 of the picks have combined for 30 All-Pro honors, 28 have garnered 63 Pro Bowl honors, and 24 have been named to All-Rookie Teams.
Naturally, as Studwell honed his scouting skills and moved up through the organization, other teams began sniffing around to try and lure him away from Minnesota.
Rob Brzezinski, the Vikings Executive Vice President of Football Operations, joined the organization in 1999.
It didn’t take long for Brzezinski to get familiar with walking to Studwell’s office at Winter Park to tell him that teams were interested in him for coveted jobs. Each time, the answer was the same.
“I have a hard team believing there is anyone who could accomplish what he has both on the field and off the field,” Brzezinski said. “The thing that was really striking to me is his loyalty to the Vikings over the years. When I first came here 20 years ago, for the first number of years I was here, we would get inquiries for Stud to interview for general manager jobs around the league.
“He would just look at me and say, ‘No interest.’ He didn’t care what it would pay or where it was,” Brzezinski added. “Stud is a Minnesota Viking, and his loyalty and his dedication and his love for the Vikings and the state of Minnesota is unbelievable. There’s a lot of great stories about Stud, but the one that always stands out to me is his dedication and loyalty to the Vikings.”
Jenny Studwell would also hear the news that teams wanted her husband to come lead their front offices and try to shape football teams.
Not happening, she recalls him saying each time.
“Scott is just sort of a rock and has been present through all of it and has just been plugging away on a daily basis,” Jenny Studwell said. “And he’s happy to do it … he loves every minute of it. He’s devoted.
“He’s always said to me [he declined the jobs] because he wanted to keep his family in one place. This is home for me. It would have been difficult to relocate every few years,” she added. “This is his team, too. I can’t imagine him as anything other than a Viking. That’s what he’s always been.”
Scott Studwell has been as loyal a worker that the Vikings have ever had.
But even now, as Studwell has exited Twin Cities Orthopedics Performance Center for the last time as an employee, those who know him best won’t remember the tackles on the field or the discussions in the draft room.
Instead, they will miss the person, and the impact he has had on each and every one of them.
'He’s a friend to every single person'
It was March 7, 2017, and Chad Greenway was calling it quits.
As the Vikings linebacker navigated through his retirement speech, he seemed to thank countless coaches, teammates and family members.
But he made sure to spend some time talking about one of the best people in the entire state of Minnesota.
“There’s one guy in the scouting department that I had to single out, because he was the first person I met from this organization. His name’s Scott Studwell … you might have heard of him,” Greenway said. “He’s in our Ring of Honor. He’s one of our best players of all-time. He’s certainly my favorite Viking of all-time, and Scott started scouting me at Iowa, maybe, in 2003 or 2004. And he would always be around and asking a bunch of questions, and I didn’t really know who he was, and then our strength coach told me who he was. Then I looked him up and I realized exactly who he was.
“Then when he helped draft me here in 2006, I got to be around him every day on a professional level and see how he handled himself after football. We all know his historic career and all his damn records I couldn’t catch,” Greenway continued. “Those shadows lurked over me, just trying to live up to, not only how Scott was as a player and the way he played the game, the respect people had for him, but also the way he carries himself professionally.
“I look up to you, Scott, a lot. I appreciate that example every day,” Greenway added. “I couldn’t catch the records because they were way too far out in front of me, but I appreciate you giving me a standard to reach for.”
Greenway’s heartfelt words likely summed up the thoughts of most within the organization.
Yes, Studwell is respected as a linebacker and a scout, but he is admired for the way he treats people.
When Studwell went on the road for this fall, he invited Kleine along for her first scouting trip. The duo evaluated players at Wisconsin, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Maryland and Purdue.
Always one to sprinkle some fun into the trip, Studwell made sure they caught a Chicago Cubs game and took some time to relax along the way.
Kleine said she cherishes the car rides and the conversations with Studwell, and noted how other scouts grew sentimental on his farewell tour.
At each school, regional scouts would voice their appreciation to Studwell for his friendship over the years. And before the linebackers ran the 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, the group on the field honored Studwell for his contributions to the game.
“We bonded so much and have gotten so close over the years. He’s really been like a dad to me,” said Kleine, her voice becoming emotional. “He’s a friend to every single person. Besides the fact of him being an incredible player and an incredible scout, he is a Minnesota Viking and exemplifies what a Viking is. I think more importantly, he’s just the most caring person in the entire world.
“He’ll call you and check on you and check on how your family is doing. If you are going through some things, he will call anybody and make time for them. He’s the best. I’ll miss that,” Kleine added. “His family is so blessed to have him, and I’m so glad they get to have more of him now because we’ve had him for all these years. He’s an unbelievable human being. So many people know him, and know him well. Everyone is going to miss him because of the person he is and the friend he is.”
Perhaps nobody showed more emotion about Studwell’s impending retirement than Spielman when the Vikings general manager publicly announced it on April 23.
Spielman struggled to contain himself and choked up numerous times at the podium. When he was done, he stepped to the side and embraced Studwell in a lengthy hug.
“The only thing I can say, Stud,” Spielman said, “is thank you for your guidance, your leadership, and probably the most important thing, thank you for your friendship.”
Paton and Studwell have been colleagues since 2006. The two hit it off instantly and are known to eat breakfast and lunch together every day if Studwell is in town.
And they stop by each other’s office multiple times a day to chat about football, family and their lives.
Paton explained how Studwell’s reach and impact stretches from interns to the Wilf family, and how he treats everyone the same.
“For the whole staff, everyone, he’s kind of the Pied Piper. I mean, when we used to go to Mankato … at night, everyone would all kind of be waiting for Stud,” Paton said. “When Stud had to go home for a night, everyone is just kind of walking around aimlessly. He’s The Pied Piper. We go to the Senior Bowl, and everyone follows Stud. Combine … Stud.”
When Studwell told his close co-workers midway through the 2018 season that he was stepping away in the spring, the vibe turned dark in the team facility.
“When he told Rob and I … it was kind of like death. You knew it was coming, but you don’t like talking about it. He told us, and we knew he was serious,” Paton said. “For the rest of the day, we were just in the tank because we knew what it meant.
“We’re happy for him, and it’s the right thing for him, but selfishly, we were kind are depressed. Still are,” Paton added. “This job is tough, and we’re here a lot of hours, up and down. But whenever you’re up, he’s the best to be around. And whenever you’re down, he’s the best to be around because he’ll bring you up.”
Yet for each colleague that wonders how the Vikings will go on without Studwell, the same person is quick to point out how much he deserves to spend more time with his family.
Scott and Jenny have three kids — Jessie, Sam and Jack — plus a trio of grandkids. And for as much as Studwell bleeds Purple, he cares about those closest to him even more.
“He is more devoted [as a family man] than he is to the Vikings,” Jenny Studwell said. “Really good guy, raised by phenomenal people … my family is all around here, he has his sister here, our kids are here and grandkids are here … absolutely involved, immersed and devoted to them. He can’t spend enough time with our kids and grandkids.
“When I think of Scott Studwell now, it is Scott Studwell as my husband and the family man. I mean, the linebacker is a part of him, and the scout is a part of him,” she added. “But for me, it is Scott Studwell — my husband, my mate and the father of our kids. Always has been, always will be.”
On April 3, a few weeks before his 28th and final draft with the Vikings as a member of the personnel department, Studwell sat in his office and reflected on why the time to retire is now.
He mentioned the sudden loss of friends and colleagues over the past year, but he directly pointed to wanting to spend more time with his family as his reason.
“I know for a fact that, personally, I cannot do this on a part-time basis. I’m either all-in or I’m out. This is not a part-time job, and this is not a part-time business,” Studwell said. “For me, it was either you continue doing what you’re doing or you have to call it quits. It’s been in the back of my mind for the past two or three years, and the feeling became stronger.”
The Vikings have lost multiple members of the organization since April of 2018, beginning with Grady Alderman. The passing of others such as Bill Brown, John Michels, Eric Moss, Keith Nord, Tony Sparano, Wade Wilson and Fred Zamberletti have also impacted Studwell.
“It wasn’t the fact that I experienced my mortality,” Studwell said. “But it was, ‘Do I want to keep doing this and then five or 10 years down the road, look back and [think] ‘What have I missed?’ I want to spend more time with my wife and my family and my grandkids. It just feels like the right time to do it.”
'A different chapter in my life'
On the night of April 27, Scott Studwell’s career came full circle.
More than four decades after being the 250th overall pick in the 1977 NFL Draft, Studwell was on the other end of that same pick when he made the call to Austin Cutting to let the Air Force long snapper know he was Minnesota’s selection with the corresponding spot.
It was a fitting end to an astonishing career for Studwell.
“There’s probably not another person that will have as big an impact as a player and in the front office,” Spielman said. “To do both, to transition to the front office from the field, is a rarity.”
Spielman’s words bring up a good point, and one that opens a debate.
Who has made as much of a mark on the Vikings for a prolonged period of time than Studwell? The usual names such as Grant and other Vikings Hall of Famers come to mind, as do longtime franchise icons such as Ring of Honor defensive end Jim Marshall, personnel advisor and former receiver Jerry Reichow, late trainer Fred Zamberletti and longtime equipment manager Dennis Ryan.
Coleman said he might tally a vote for his former teammate because of all he has done over the past 42 years.
“I’m not sure who can [match him] with the day-to-day grind,” Coleman said. “In terms of a player leaving the field and then going into the front office, I don’t think anybody has had the legacy that Stud has, and I don’t think anybody will.
“He put just as much passion in as a scout as he did as a player. He was passionate as hell as a player, and he was even more passionate being a scout. I lived it with him as a player, but I’ve observed it as a scout,” Coleman added. “Regardless of whether he had on a jersey or a ballcap … he’s not a coat and tie guy … he was just as passionate about both of his assignments as I can remember anybody in the organization being.”
Studwell’s legacy in Purple has long been set in stone. He is the franchise’s all-time leading tackler, a member of the Ring of Honor and has helped mold the organization’s vision on and off the field for the past 28 years as a scout.
We’ll let the franchise icon have the last word.
“It’s going to be sad, but I’m starting a different chapter in my life. I’m going to miss this book that has already been written,” Studwell said. “But I cherish these people here, and I cherish this organization, and I cherish the fact that I’ve been able to be here for the last 42 years.
“I don’t think there’s any stone left unturned here, and I can’t set any more goals for myself as a Minnesota Viking other than winning a Super Bowl. I’m going to miss out on that when they do win it,” Studwell added. “But I hope they win it this year … everybody that has ever been involved with this organization, when they do win it, they’re all going to win it. Because that’s the kind of place this place is.”
Written by Eric Smith