Robby Anderson's Special Bond With Matt Rhule

Jack Duffy

Robby Anderson’s journey to the NFL is accompanied by many bumps in the road, drawbacks, failures, and humble reality checks. The wide receiver signed a two-year, $20 million contract with the Panthers, becoming official Wednesday. Anderson refuses to take sole credit for the position he’s in today, acknowledging that if it weren’t for Matt Rhule fighting for him back at Temple, that he would not have even made it to the NFL, let alone finish his collegiate career for the Owls.

The special bond formed between Rhule and Anderson begins in the spring of 2013 when Rhule was in his first season as head coach at Temple. Robby Anderson was a redshirt sophomore, spending the previous season primarily on special teams and as a backup cornerback - a role he was unhappy in. He played both cornerback and receiver in high school but saw himself - a six-foot-three speedster - as a wide receiver for the Owls.

Frustrated with his situation, Anderson quit Temple’s football team in the spring and went back home to Florida.

“My first two seasons at Temple, I was frustrated. I was on the bench, sitting behind people who weren’t better than me — you know? I didn’t feel like I was getting a fair shot to play. I needed to have a new start somewhere else,” Anderson told The New York Times in 2016.

Late that summer, he realized he made a mistake and wanted to return to Temple - not as a defensive back but as a wide receiver. Rhule agreed, welcoming Anderson back onto the team but did not give him back his scholarship. During the 2013 season, Anderson thrived, catching 44 passes for 791 yards and hauled in nine touchdowns.

During Anderson’s second dismissal from Temple, watching his team play on Saturday’s remotely from Florida, he continued to keep in touch with Matt Rhule. Rhule was persistently fighting the university to change its policies that allowed students to re-enroll in the school after failing to meet academic standards. At the time, the policy permitted students from returning to Temple for five years following an academic dismissal.

Rhule diligently fought to change the rule and eventually succeeded, making way for Anderson to return to Temple in 2015.

“He [Rhule] stood on the table with the university to get me back into school, to open up that door for me to rewrite my wrongs to get me in the position I’m in today,” Anderson said Friday in his first media availability since signing with the Panthers.

“I wasn’t handling my business in the classroom. I fell short. I was academically suspended. How the school’s rules were set up, I wasn’t supposed to be able to come back to school for five years due to my suspension and my GPA. But Coach Rhule fought hard for literally like a whole year over and over and over and finally, they decided to change the university’s rules which gave me the chance to come back in the summer. I had to work hard and raise my GPA and took a crazy amount of summer classes just to get eligible to play my senior year.”

Robby Anderson had an outstanding senior year for the Owls, catching 70 passes for 939 yards and seven touchdowns. He went on to be an undrafted free agent, signing with the Jets in 2016 where he led the NFL in preseason receiving yards, eventually becoming a full-time starter in 2017. Anderson became only one of eight receivers in the NFL to notch at least 50 receptions, 750 receiving yards, and five touchdowns from 2017 to 2019.

Now, Anderson gets a chance to reunite with his head coach in Carolina, where he gave Rhule significant praise for providing Anderson the opportunity to be where he is today - a starting wide receiver in the NFL making $10 million a year.

“I can honestly say if it wasn’t for Coach Rhule making things happen, I wouldn’t be in the position that I’m in today.”

Matt Rhule saw a golden opportunity to pair Anderson up with receivers D.J. Moore and Curtis Samuel, along with All-Pro running back Christian McCaffrey and Teddy Bridgewater to form a lethal offense in a star-studded NFC South. It was a possibility the team couldn’t pass up and a chance to give the team a vertical threat they desperately needed.

For Anderson, there wasn’t much convincing on his end to sign with the Panthers. He had his eye on Carolina immediately following the news breaking of Rhule becoming the team’s next head coach.

“I know winning is in his blood and that’s what he’s here to do,” Anderson said. “There wasn’t much he had to sell me on… I wanted to be a Panther.” 

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