A cop for 35 years, McCarthy was always looking over his shoulder and waking up to phone calls in the middle of the night. He says civilian life takes some getting used to.
"I don't remember what it was like. I don't remember what it was like to be a civilian," he said.
McCarthy arrived alone for the interview, without any entourage. He's surprisingly soft-spoken, but has a lot to say.
"One of the things I have learned about myself is to always take a deep breath and take a little time to kind of gather myself before I react because it would have been very easy to do that," he said.
And make no mistake, his first reaction was anger - and even sadness.
"This was a real tragic event in a number of different ways. Obviously, what happened to Laquan McDonald is the greatest tragedy," McCarthy said. "As far as being hurt, of course I'm hurt.
On November 27, 2015, McCarthy said: "I've never quit on anything in my life. I'm 56 years old, I don't expect that to change. The mayor has made it clear he has my back."
In the end, he didn't. Emanuel fired McCarthy from his $260,000 a year job and promised the superintendent's successor Eddie Johnson he has his back.
"I don't know what happens behind closed doors, but that's something that Eddie is going to have to deal with," McCarthy said.
But McCarthy said he has confidence in his successor. In fact, they have history and it's all good.
"He was the first person I promoted, I made him a deputy chief. He was my last promotion when I made him chief of patrol. So, Eddie is a really solid guy. I think the world of him and I'll do anything I can to help him," McCarthy said.
The former police superintendent said he's an advocate for a lot of the measures the department has taken to increase transparency and reduce negative outcomes. But he admits all the scrutiny could also be endangering the lives of officers who second-guess themselves on the streets.
"If you hesitate, you can get hurt. You can get hurt very badly," he said.
McCarthy said his biggest regret is not being able to finish what he started.
"I set out with a long-term strategy for organizational change and cultural change in the Chicago Police Department and within it people wanted immediate results," McCarthy said. "People wanted the violence to stop and like I said, cultural change and crime reduction is a process."
On whether Chicago's gun violence crisis could be solved, McCarthy said absolutely, but if we focus only on policing it'll never happen. Lawmakers need to enact stricter penalties for gun violations. The city's crime-ridden communities need social change and economic opportunity. As it stands, McCarthy says the outlook for fighting gun violence in the second half of 2016 is bleak. One of the most disturbing observations McCarthy has made is that criminals are bolder than they were in the past and they're more fearful of gang retribution than they are of the law.
"There's not a reason for optimism right now," he said. "Now, more than ever, I wish that I was still at the helm of that department."
McCarthy says it's been tough getting back to work, but he and a partner have started a private security firm.
McCarthy is also gearing up for another kind of challenge: he's becoming a dad again at 57. His wife Kristin is pregnant with the couple's first child.
You can watch much more of that exclusive interview on Newsviews during Eyewitness News Sunday morning starting at 8 a.m.