"You need to write a book."
If former University of Tennessee at Chattanooga men's basketball coach Mack McCarthy has heard it once during his 46 years inside college hoops, he's heard it a thousand times.
And to listen to Mack recall even a handful of colorful stories from his days as Sonny Smith's assistant at East Tennessee State and Auburn (where he coached the legendary Charles Barkley), to his 12 seasons guiding the Mocs, to later gigs as both a head coach and assistant at Virginia Commonwealth and East Carolina (as well as a stopover as assistant for Georgia Tech's women's program), to his current television work is to clearly understand why.
Plus, as the 68-year-old recently said of his desire to take on such a project before any more time passed, "I do forget more than I used to."
So when he was quarantined inside his home in Greenville, North Carolina, after a friend contracted COVID-19 in March just after the sports world, and pretty much everything else, stopped turning, he got out his laptop and began to chronicle his professional past.
There were all those players he'd coached. All the coaches he'd worked with. And all those 343 games he won, some of which were part of the five NCAA tournament berths he oversaw at UTC, including one remarkable, unforgettable Sweet 16 run in 1997.
"It's something that had been on my mind for a long time," Mack said this past week. "A lot of people have heard a lot of the Sonny and Charles stories, but I'm not sure anybody has heard them all."
The result is the highly informative, sometimes funny, often touching 203-page "What I'm About To Tell You Is The Truth, Or Could Be," with the subtitle "My Accidental Career Path."
There was a time while growing up in Woodstock, Virginia, that Mack thought sports writing might be his career. Waking up every morning to read the Richmond Times Dispatch and its esteemed columnist Bill Millsaps, the Soddy-Daisy native and Central High School graduate, Mack was already published before he headed off to Virginia Tech for college.
"I worked throughout high school and college as a sports writer for the local newspaper, the Northern Virginia Daily, which was great fun, and actually did give me something to think about doing in the future," writes Mack. "I was even the sports writer of a weekly paper, The Shenandoah Valley, and I had a full page to do whatever I wanted."
He even had his own column in the weekly paper: Mack's Memo.
Virginia Tech had no journalism major, though, so he chose health, physical education and recreation for his course of study, began refereeing junior varsity and junior high school basketball games and bid farewell to his newspaper dreams.
Yet if the coaching money eventually proved far superior to anything he would likely have earned as a sports writer, penning the book did bring back more than a few good memories from his newspaper days.
"A lot, actually," Mack said, "because writing this book highlighted a lot of really good times."
There are certainly a lot of really good memories for UTC fans in the book, which can be purchased at mackmccarthy.com and will include a personal inscription. More than 70 pages are devoted to the dozen years that Mack, wife Jean and daughter Katie — who was born here — spent in the Scenic City.
My personal favorite moment of Mack's time here isn't in the book, however. My first year as this newspaper's UTC basketball beat writer was his first as head coach. At the start of that 1985-86 season, we quickly bonded over the three Bs: basketball, barbecue and Bea's Restaurant.
But where we didn't exactly jell was practice. He loved it. I didn't. Still, one morning he called me and said I might want to drop by that afternoon's workout. He didn't think I'd be disappointed.
Arriving at the Roundhouse, I witnessed a raging Mack, screaming at everyone about everything. After a few minutes he grabbed the basketball, booted it into the upper level, then told the Mocs he couldn't watch them another minute and sent them back to their dorms to consider their efforts.
As soon as the players left the building, Mack turned to me, broke into a grin and said, "So, you want to go to Auburn with us? They're playing an exhibition tonight."
I didn't go, but it was Mack's coaching genius at its best.
Alas, in this endless year of misery due to the coronavirus pandemic, the most gut-wrenching story occurred too late to be included in the book.
As Mack began to write, he decided to dedicate his effort to all the players he'd ever coached.
"Anything I've ever accomplished," he said, "has been due to those guys."
One of those players was B.J. Johnson, who was just two years younger than Mack when the two worked together at East Tennessee.
"B.J. went on to become the top scout for the Houston Rockets," Mack said. "He was one of the most respected guys in the NBA. When the NBA began the bubble in Orlando last summer, B.J. decided to stay home. We started talking almost every day for about a month."
Unfortunately, the 65-year-old Johnson went out for a bike ride on Oct. 15, hit a culvert, broke his neck and, in Mack's words, "died right on the spot."
Added Mack on Friday, nearly a month after that tragedy, "It's certainly heightened awareness for how much we all need to stay connected."
Which is the real beauty of so much of Mack's book. It allows Mocs fans everywhere to reconnect to the best extended run of excellence in UTC hoops history.
Memo to Mack: Keep writing.
5-at-10: Friday mailbag with COVID and college football thoughts, Will you take the vaccine, Masters love, Rushmore of movies and Hate mail