TOM MODRAK, the Eagles' personnel chief when they drafted Donovan McNabb and embarked on the longest period of sustained success in franchise history, died Tuesday at his home in St. Augustine, Fla., at the age of 74.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Modrak died of a rare neurological disease diagnosed late last year. Modrak was a Pittsburgh native whose successful two decades-plus in the Steelers' scouting department led to his hiring by the Eagles in 1998.
"We are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Tom Modrak," Eagles chairman Jeffrey Lurie said in a statement released by the team. "Tom was a well-respected executive throughout the league and we are thankful not only for the contributions he made to this organization, but also the impact he had on the entire football and scouting community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time."
In Pittsburgh and later in Buffalo, Modrak served under general manager Tom Donahoe, now a senior football adviser to the Eagles. Modrak joined the Steelers part time in the early '70s and had been full time there for seven years when Donahoe arrived in 1985. Donahoe considered him a scouting mentor.
"Many of us in the scouting world owe Tom a huge debt of gratitude for helping us learn how to scout and evaluate players. I will always be grateful to Tom and his family for all their support and friendship. May he rest in peace," Donahoe said in the Eagles' statement.
Though Modrak was the de facto GM when the Eagles started turning around a team that had bottomed out at 3-13 in 1998, he didn't get to enjoy the fruits of his labor. Lurie and then-team president Joe Banner turned down Jim Haslett, Modrak's choice to succeed head coach Ray Rhodes, and instead hired Andy Reid. That was the beginning of the end for Modrak, who was forced out when Reid demanded and received personnel control in 2001.
"Modrak and I got let go and they went to four straight NFC Championship Games with our team," Mike McCartney, a Modrak assistant with the Eagles, now a player agent, told the Post-Gazette.
People with knowledge of the situation have said that the problems in the relationship began when Haslett interviewed with Lurie and Banner. Haslett told them he would take their coaching job only on the condition that they have nothing to do with the football operation, which would be run by Modrak and himself; Lurie and Banner would not be allowed to "interfere." Lurie and Banner were affronted, and after the interview, they sat and thought about where Haslett got such a negative view of them. They concluded it only could have come from Modrak.
By the time Modrak was forced out in 2001, Donahoe was president and general manager in Buffalo, so Modrak went to work there, where he stayed until 2011. In 2012, Modrak was hired to run the BLESTO scouting combine, a position he held until his death.
"Tom Modrak was an integral part of our personnel team for more than 20 years," Steelers president Art Rooney II said in a statement released by the team. "He then came back to BLESTO in recent years and continued to make important contributions. He helped the Steelers organization in many different ways throughout his career, all of which are greatly appreciated."
The Post-Gazette said Modrak's survivors, his wife and two daughters, will hold a memorial celebration of his life at their home in St. Augustine in late May, right after both the BLESTO and National scouting combines hold their spring meetings in Florida.