RICHMOND, Va. — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit with full force back in March, former VCU head coach Mack McCarthy was one of the first people affected.
He came in contact with someone who had tested positive and had to quarantine for two weeks, with no basketball to keep him busy.
“My goodness, without anything on TV, I’m going to drive myself crazy,” McCarthy recalled. “I sat down and started writing.”
What he began writing turned into his first book, titled “What I’m about to tell you is the truth, or could be.”
It’s a retrospective of his lifetime in college basketball, from being a graduate assistant at Virginia Tech to the head coach at Chattanooga, VCU and East Carolina.
The title comes from a phrase that another former coach, Eddie Biedenbach used to say before he’d spin a yarn about his career. McCarthy uses it in the same way to describe his long, serendipitous path through college basketball.
“Everyone has always said you have all these great stories, you need to write them down before you forget them. That had some relevance because I do forget more than I used to,” said McCarthy.
The forward is written by none other than Charles Barkley, whom McCarthy coached when he was an assistant under Sonny Smith at Auburn. Barkley writes that McCarthy worked to make him a better player and a better student, with more success in one area than the other.
“I kinda felt like it was going to be the same as his schoolwork. I’d just say ‘I’ll just do it Charles’. And he’d say ‘Go ahead.’ But it didn’t work out that way. He really wanted to do it,” McCarthy recalled.
McCarthy also writes about landing his first head coaching job at Chattanooga and the other coaches he beat out for the job, including one who is something of a household name in the business.
“The final 3 were Tom Abatemarco, who was an assistant for Jim Valvano on the NC State staff, who had won the title in ’83, Roy Williams who had won the title with Carolina, and we were the final 3. The job didn’t open until August which made it kind of awkward. There couldn’t be a lot of people involved. I think it worked out OK for Roy, I don’t know where he went from there but I’ve heard that he did well,” said McCarthy.
McCarthy came to VCU just as the Siegel Center was being built, but its opening was delayed an entire season. It would be sacrilege to consider it today, but his first season was spent playing several home games at UR’s Robins Center, with nowhere near the home court advantage the Rams of today enjoy.
“It probably set us back a little bit. We literally had a game where we showed up at the Robins Center, the band was at Franklin Street, and the cheerleaders were at the Coliseum. We had no idea what was going on,” he recalled.
McCarthy is also very candid about the end of his tenure at certain jobs, noting that he had a very big say in when and how his time would come to an end, a luxury not afforded many coaches in today’s game.
“At Chattanooga there were issues. We weren’t taking advantage of the success that we had. At VCU, I didn’t feel like we had gotten to where we needed to be quickly enough, although I thought we were trending in the right direction,” said McCarthy.
“When you wrote this, did a part of you look back and admire and be grateful for the path that has led you all the way through this?” Lane Casadonte asked McCarthy.
“Lane, I was so lucky,” McCarthy responded. “It was unbelievable. The random people that I met and the random things that happened. You make every decision that you make with the information you have at the time. Like I said, I don’t have many regrets about anything that’s happened to me.”
McCarthy has another book in him, filled with stories that didn’t make it into this one. It will be called “The Truth.”
You can order a copy of Mack’s book from his website, and he will even sign it for you.