Tom Modrak was a wonderful, high-character, class individual and an excellent football scout.
Regardless of the Buffalo Bills' "Drought," there is universal agreement on the preceding statement in the football world. It's the truth. Many across the NFL have recognized it in the wake of Modrak's death at age 74 Tuesday.
What kind of job did Modrak do for the Bills? That's where it gets gray. Not good enough, for sure. That's a fact for everybody involved with the football administration of the franchise the past 17 years. But it's hard to make too many definitive statements about Modrak's contributions to the Bills' because he never was the one in full control of the team's personnel.
"Tom does a good job, but he doesn’t make the last call," late Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. told The News in January 2011. "He puts the board up. We have a lot of hard-working scouts. But it comes down to making the last decision. That’s not Tom.”
Modrak essentially oversaw the college scouting operation from the 2002 through 2010 drafts, from the time he was hired by Tom Donahoe until Buddy Nix put his full team of scouts in place.
Modrak was a team player who did not have a big ego. He was willing to execute the vision that the Bills' coaches wanted, to a large degree. If he had full control, would he have pulled the trigger on J.P. Losman and Willis McGahee, high-risk moves that were Donahoe calls? I have my doubts, but we'll never know. Did he go to the wall to try to dissuade Donahoe from Losman? I suspect not.
Was it Modrak who decided Haloti Ngata couldn't play in the Buffalo defense, and the Bills should take Donte Whitner instead? Absolutely not. That was Dick Jauron and aide Bill Kollar. (Of course, as it turned out Ngata would have been great in any defense.)
In 2007, Modrak did like Marshawn Lynch, who obviously was a great player. Was Lynch a good fit for Buffalo? Never. If the Bills had a head coach who could have connected with and managed Lynch (as Pete Carroll did a little bit, as opposed to Jauron), might it have gone better for Lynch in Buffalo? Maybe.
With no franchise QB in place, somebody always has been getting ready to be fired during The Drought. That was largely the fault of one guy: Wilson. Too many picks were made based on immediacy. Modrak loved Jordy Nelson in 2008. Nelson went 36th to Green Bay. The Bills picked 41st. Jauron and offensive chief Turk Schonert were desperate for a tall receiver. Schonert probably correctly sensed his seat already could get hot. The pick was James Hardy. Reach. Bust. Not Modrak's fault.
Then there was Aaron Maybin. Again, Jauron & Co. were desperate for an edge rusher in the Tampa defense. Desperate. Modrak saw Maybin's potential to rush from both sides but knew it was a reach. Did he jump up and down hard enough to object? It's what the coaching staff was begging for.
The real story behind all the mistakes of The Drought could fill a book. But who the heck would want to re-live it? Modrak has just one of many chapters in the comic-tragedy.