The Buffalo Bills' lack of success in the NFL draft this decade has made Tom Modrak a target of fan discontent.
Yet the Bills' vice president of college scouting is representing the Bills for a 10th straight year at the Senior Bowl this week, and his 34 years of NFL experience remains a valued asset within the team.
How has Modrak survived as the Bills' playoff drought has reached 11 years? Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr. says it's hard to lay a big share of the blame on Modrak when he has not had the final say on draft choices.
"Well, I think Tom has been with us a long time," Wilson said Wednesday. "He's a hard worker. He knows the game. In the draft, there's no question it's a big disappointment that we haven't had more impact players, players that make a big difference, go to the Pro Bowl. Tom does a good job, but he doesn't make the last call. He puts the [draft] board up. We have a lot of hard-working scouts. But it comes down to making the last decision. That's not Tom."
Modrak served under former team president Tom Donahoe his first four years with the Bills. Marv Levy served as general manager the next two years. Chief Executive Officer Russ Brandon was general manager in 2009. The lack of a definitive voice in the draft room after Donahoe left was a distinct weakness in the Bills' operation. Former coach Dick Jauron had more say in the draft decisions than he probably deserved, and the Bills' "team approach" on making final draft decisions overall proved unsuccessful.
The chain of command was overhauled last year when Buddy Nix was named executive vice president and general manager. Nix is the one who pulls every name off the Bills' draft board.
"Starting with this past draft, it's on me," Nix said. "But Tom has done everything he could do for us since I've been here. He takes a lot of shots, because he's the last one standing. Everybody else is gone. So he's an easy target. But I don't pay any attention to the fans or what people write about that.
"I'm not concerned with what happened before," Nix said. "We have to deal with the hand we're dealt. That's what we'll do and try to make sure we make them all count from here on."
The Bills now have more experience at the top of their football administration than at any point since the John Butler era in the 1990s. Nix has been in football for 50 years and in the NFL 17 years. Modrak started his NFL career as a full-time scout in 1978. Bills Assistant General Manager Doug Whaley has 15 years in the NFL. Coordinator of College Scouting Doug Majeski has 22 years. Bills Southeastern scout Darrell Moody has been an NFL scout nine years and was a coach 31 years before that. Moody scouted the Southeast for San Diego from 2002 to 2010 and was brought to Buffalo by Nix in May.
Modrak declined to be interviewed Wednesday. It is not known if his contract runs out after this year's draft. But the fact he survived the Bills' latest regime change and still oversees the team's area scouts speaks to the respect Wilson and Nix give him.
Wilson says he feels much better about the Bills' football department.
"It's easy to say you're optimistic," Wilson said. "But I really am. I feel good about the fact that Buddy Nix is making the final call. When we draft we're going to be sure -- when we draft high -- we know all we can find out about these players."
Wilson said at midseason the Bills had to find a quarterback. However, he echoed Nix's statements about taking the best player available in April.
"If there is not a quarterback at No. 3 we like, we're not going to reach and take him," Wilson said. "We're going to take the player we like best."