James Harrison "Babe" McCarthy, sometimes called "Ol' Magnolia Mouth" or just "Magnolia Mouth" was a professional and collegiate basketball coach. McCarthy was originally from Baldwyn, Mississippi. McCarthy may best be remembered for Mississippi State's appearance in the 1963 NCAA Division I Men's Tournament when his all-white team snuck out of town in order to face Chicago Loyola University, which had four black starters.
In March 1975, McCarthy died as a result of colon cancer.
McCarthy had coached at Mississippi State University, where his teams won 169 games, lost 85, and won or shared four Southeastern Conference titles. While coaching at MSU he was named SEC Coach of the year 3 times. When he left Mississippi State he was the school's all-time leader in wins but has since been passed by Richard Williams and Rick Stansbury.
McCarthy may best be remembered for his team crossing the color line in the segregated south of the 1960s. Even before it was certain that Mississippi State would face Loyola and their four black starters, racist elements in the Mississippi media got into the act. On Thursday, March 7, 1963 the Jackson Daily News printed a picture of Loyola's starters to show that four of them were African Americans. As a caption to the picture, Daily News editor Jimmy Ward wrote that "readers may desire to clip the photo of the Loyola team and mail it today to the board of trustees of the institution of higher learning" to prevent the game from taking place.
The editorials were in response to the decision by Mississippi State President Dean W. Colvard's March 2, 1963 to accept the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament as SEC Champions - a bid that they had refused three times before when faced with the prospect of playing integrated teams. The College Board of Mississippi met on March 9, 1963 and upheld Colvard's decision. But on March 13, just a day before the team was scheduled to travel to East Lansing, state senator Billy Mitts and former state senator B.W. Lawson sought and obtained a temporary injunction against the team leaving the state.
While sheriffs were on their way to Starkville, Mississippi to serve the injunction, the team was participating in a pep rally the night before their departure, where effigies of racist state senators Mitts and Lawson were hung. The team's original plan was to leave Starkville at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday morning. But learning that the Hinds County sheriffs would be expected to arrive in town at 11:30 p.m. Wednesday night, MSU put their sophisticated contingency plan into effect.
Coach Babe McCarthy, the athletic director, and the assistant athletic director drove to Memphis, and then flew to Nashville. The team itself sent the freshman squad to the airport as scheduled-posing as the varsity team. The real varsity team hid in a dorm on campus. The next morning, they boarded a private plane at the airport and flew to Nashville to meet up with the coach and team officials. From Nashville, the whole group took a commercial flight to the game at East Lansing, Michigan. These events were chronicled in the dcoumentary film One Night in March produced by Starkville-based Broadcast Media Group.
He later coached the George Washington University's men's basketball team, going 9-18 with the Colonials in 1966-1967.
In the American Basketball Association, McCarthy coached the New Orleans Bucaneers from 1967 to 1970, the Memphis Tams from 1970 to 1972, the Dallas Chaparrals for the 1972-73 season, and the Kentucky Colonels in the 1973-1974 season. He was named ABA Coach of the Year for the 73-74 season. In the 1967-68 season he led the team two victories over the Denver Rockets and Dallas Chapparals before losing the finals in seven games to the Pittsburgh Condors. He was named ABA coach of the year in 1969 and 1974. He was the first ABA coach to win 200 games.