Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 May 2011

Bills Part Ways With VP of College Scouting

Less than a week after the 2011 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills announced that Vice President of College Scouting Tom Modrak has been relieved of his duties.

"This is the time of year when we evaluate every element of our football operation and with the Draft now completed, we have decided to reorganize our personnel department," Bills general manager Buddy Nix said in a statement released by the team. "We have begun that process and made a decision to head in a different direction. We thank Tom for his 10 years of dedication to our organization and wish him the best in his future endeavors."

A former scout and personnel executive with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1978-97) and Philadelphia Eagles (1998-2001), Modrak joined the Bills organization in 2001 and had been in his most recent position since 2007.

Posted by: Brian McIntyre on 04 May 2011

21 comments, Last at 07 May 2011, 7:09pm by Theo


by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 11:49am

Well, that's extremely odd timing, to put it mildly.

by JIPanick :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 12:13pm

I don't really agree. Just after the end of a college scouting cycle is the best time to relieve a scout, no? It's kind of like waiting to fire a coach after week 17.

by MilkmanDanimal :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 1:06pm

I guess I would wonder why you would fire someone you apparently to be not competent enough to keep their job a few days after the draft; if he wasn't good enough to keep around, why keep him until right after the most critical part of the process? If you don't like his scouting (and you shouldn't, based on the Bills' draft records), dump him at the start of the offseason and find somebody else.

by coboney :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 2:28pm

The issue is that the start of the Offseason is already part way through the evalutation process. This is the time to do it - after the picks are done, and the next cycle hasn't begun so there's time for whoever they hire to get in and talk with the scouts, change the scouts to who he wants if need be and go over what he's looking for in evaluation.

by Illuminatus (not verified) :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 4:05pm

It's not clear when the decision was made, and if they chose to do it midway through the process its better to let him ride it out rather than firing him so other teams can learn about the Bills' draft board.

by rageon :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 4:49pm

Say you've got a project at work that needs to meet an intermediate deadline. You learn that of on the key guys on it isn't all that good -- not terrible, but not good enough that you aren't going to need to replace him at some point. But if you do it now, you won't make the deadline. You keep him around until after the deadline, right?

It's not like keeping this scout around was going to destory the team. I mean, he provides SOME value, right? Just not as much as the teams wants. That doesn't mean he he's completely incapable of providing any expertise with the draft, though.

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 05/05/2011 - 9:00am

Also, wouldn't the VP of College Scouting be partly (if not wholly) responsible for assigning where scouts are going to look at players? Maybe the new Bills administration hasn't been entirely happy with their coverage of players, or how they've gone about doing that, rather than just the actual scouting reports of players.

by Never Surrender (not verified) :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 6:02pm

"if he wasn't good enough to keep around, why keep him until right after the most critical part of the process?"

Because of the chaos that could ensue when the person in charge of the process is fired right before the most important day of the year?

by Kibbles :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 6:35pm

Witness: 2009 Denver Broncos. A month before the draft, Josh McDaniels fired the Goodmans, a father/son scouting team that pretty much ran the evaluations side of their front office (Brian Xanders was Denver's GM-in-name, but he pretty much just handled contracts and salary cap). The resulting draft was one of the worst drafts of the last decade. In the first, Denver took Knowshon Moreno (the slowest RB to be drafted in the 1st round in the last decade) and Robert Ayers (possibly the least productive college DE to be drafted in the first round). They traded a future 1st rounder (wound up being #14 in 2010) for Alphonso Smith, who was so bad they traded him to Detroit just one year later for a 7th rounder (and then, even more humorously, Smith wound up playing not-totally-terribly for Detroit). Denver drafted Safeties in the 2nd and 4th who are so bad that they couldn't crack the oldest started secondary in NFL history, and 2 years later Denver was once again forced to draft Safeties in the 2nd and the 4th to replace them. They spent a 2nd round draft pick on a TE with 12 receptions in his entire college career. After the draft, McDaniels was bragging about how he only had 100 names on his draft board.

Basically, that's what happens when you fire your scouting department a month before the NFL draft.

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 05/05/2011 - 1:47pm

That line from McDaniels was actually even better: He also made a point of saying they never had to look at any names not on their board for the entire draft. Not a single team surprised him with their picks, thus leaving somebody available who Josh didn't expect to still be there? Really, the only way to make that work is if you're drafting guys a round (or more) early--which is exactly what was the case.

by BigCheese :: Fri, 05/06/2011 - 2:43am

Actually they TRADED UP into the last pick of the second round to draft a TE with 12 college receptions...

I doubt we'll ever see a draft this incompetent in our lifetimes. When the Raiders 09 draft isn't even in the discussion for the worst draft that year, you know you0ve seen something special...

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by Hank Hardy Unruh (not verified) :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 12:44pm

After reviewing the Bills' last ten drafts, I can't criticize this move too harshly.


Looking for picks that provided value above where the selection was made, I count Jairus Byrd, McKelvin, Steve Johnson, Posluszny, Kyle Williams, Lee Evans, Chris Kelsay, and Terrence McGee. Significant busts include Aaron Maybin, James Hardy, Donte Whitner, John McCargo, J.P. Losman, Mike Williams, and drafting a new RB in the first round every couple years. Perhaps most damning of all is that despite relatively good draft position, Modrak didn't uncover a single star in his ten years - Lee Evans probably comes closest, and he's a fringe Pro Bowler at best.

by Megamanic :: Thu, 05/05/2011 - 4:58am

If you sum the CareerAV for all the players they drafted you get 726. Is that good or bad?

I've got limited time so I cherry picked a few teams with a good reputation for drafting in the last 10 years and Detroit :)

NWE: 887
DAL: 895
SDG: 896 (If we'd gone back one more year to 2001 their total would have included Brees & Tomlinson!)
DET: 575

So, 726 isn't transcendent but it certainly isn't historically inept either. Probably Buddy Nix putting "His" guy in.

by GlennW :: Fri, 05/06/2011 - 3:31pm

Isn't it simpler and better just to look at Buffalo's W-L record? Over a sample of 10 seasons that should be the primary indicator of what your draft and UFA talent has amounted to overall. Sure, there's the factor of coaching (the quality of the coaching ostensibly affects the individual performance statistics anyway), but talent is the single biggest factor. Also account for the impact of free agent signings and trades, and you're still left with the draft as the primary means as to how this team was built (as opposed to the Redskins and maybe a couple other teams).

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 05/05/2011 - 8:58am

They seem to be good at getting value from the 2nd round and beyond, but not great at picking their first round guys.

by jebmak :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 6:26pm

I wonder if he was tipped off and drafted poorly on purpose this time.

by Kibbles :: Wed, 05/04/2011 - 6:37pm

That would certainly explain why analysts didn't hate Buffalo's draft nearly as much this year. Their front office should have tried drafting poorly on purpose years ago.

by prophetik (not verified) :: Thu, 05/05/2011 - 9:32am

most draft guys start scouting their players when they enter college. we've known for years that modrak was on his way out, so likely what was going on was that they were using his scouting information yearly and just not assigning him new players to scout. once his last 'class' was done, he's out the door.

this is probably his last job, so it's a graceful retirement at best to a city that blames him for ten years of ineptitude. 9/10ths of the players that we found that were good were chosen by the coach or other scouts - the only good player that he scouted in his time with the bills was evans and supposedly mcgee. everyone else was pretty much someone else's baby.

by PTCL (not verified) :: Thu, 05/05/2011 - 10:26am

Word has it that Modrak's role had been reduced significantly in the past year and that prior to the draft he was disappointed that he was essentially an 'information gatherer' for this year's draft.

In the past year the Bills hired Doug Whaley from Pittsburgh to be Assistant GM and Darrell Moody from SD to be a National Scout. Not to mention that Nix is doing a lot of scouting himself. The writing was on the wall for some time for Modrak.

The team always said that Modrak was never the ultimate decider on the picks, but he obviously had influence on things. But now the Jauron / Brandon / Modrak combo that oversaw a lot of misses at the top are all out of the front office.

by Thalwitzer (not verified) :: Thu, 05/05/2011 - 11:03am

Farewell, sweet prince. You did nothing of note.

Also, I wouldn't call Donte Whitner a "bust." He's serviceable, but not a star (at least not deservedly so). Had he been drafted in the second round, where he should've been drafted, he'd be considered a good find.

by Theo :: Sat, 05/07/2011 - 7:09pm

...but he wasn't. He was 8th overall.
The only safeties drafted in the top 10 in the last 10 years where: Roy Williams, Sean Taylor, Antrel Rolle*, Donte Whitner, Micheal Huff and Laron Landry.
Hmmm... by the looks of it, looks like he's quite on par.

*Drafted as corner, moved to safety.