Legendary University of Notre Dame fencing coach Michael "Mike" DeCicco, who guided Irish teams to five national championships during his 34-year coaching tenure, died Friday afternoon of congestive heart failure at Holy Cross Village at Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. He was 85 years old.
Born Nov. 16, 1927 in Newark, N.J., DeCicco is the man who built the Notre Dame fencing program, into the perennial power that it is today and has been for more than 50 years. He retired from the school after the 1995 season with 41 years of service to Notre Dame. In his four decades at the University, he served in various avenues, always giving of himself unconditionally for his love of Notre Dame. A 2002 inductee into the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, DeCicco arrived at Notre Dame from Newark, N.J., in 1945 as a freshman. Fencing resumed competition in 1947 after a three-year hiatus because of the war and DeCicco starred for the Irish as he compiled a 63-20 career record. He fenced foil, sabre and epee during his career, the last Notre Dame fencer to compete in all three weapons. His 29-1 record in foil as a junior earned him a spot in the NCAA championships. His 45-4 career foil record (.918) still ranks fourth on Notre Dame's all-time list for career foil winning percentage.
Following his graduation in 1949, DeCicco returned to New Jersey to work on his master's degree and his doctorate. In 1954, he received an offer to return to Notre Dame to finish his doctorate and decided to accept it. In 1962, after serving as assistant to another Irish coaching legend, Walter Langford, DeCicco became the fourth head coach in the 30-year history of the fencing program. DeCicco's teams won almost 95 percent of their matches and he finished with a staggering 680-45 (.938) career coaching record.
The list of accomplishments by Notre Dame fencing teams under the brilliant guidance of DeCicco is almost endless: five national championship teams, eight NCAA individual champs, a 122-match winning streak spanning six seasons (including four undefeated seasons), 12 undefeated and nine one-loss campaigns in his 34 seasons, almost 100 All-Americans and a four-time national coach-of-the-year selection. In addition to his collegiate accomplishments, DeCicco left his mark on the national and international level as he coached and represented the United States in numerous Olympic and World Championship events.
Among his proud accomplishments was the development of the women's team as one of Notre Dame's first varsity sports for women in 1977. DeCicco was able to form a solid foundation for the women's team that he coached until 1986, when Yves Auriol took over and built on that foundation.
Another of his pet projects was the academic advising program that DeCicco founded in 1964 after executive vice president Rev. Edmund Joyce, C.S.C., had asked him to start the program from scratch. The advising program was the first of its kind.
He also helped to organize three Junior World Fencing Championships on the Notre Dame campus in 1971, 1979 and 1988, and another in 2000 at the Century Center in South Bend.
DeCicco was the recipient of the Moose Krause Distinguished Service Award in 2009. The Moose Krause Distinguished Service Award is the highest honor given by the Monogram Club. It is bestowed upon an active Club member who has achieved notoriety in exemplary performance in local, state or national government, outstanding dedication to the spirit and ideals of Notre Dame, demonstrated responsibility to and concern for their respective communities, or extraordinary commitment and involvement with youth. The Monogram Club's officers and board of directors select the annual recipient. The award is named in honor of Notre Dame athletics legend Edward "Moose" Krause (1913-92), a three-sport monogram winner in the early 1930s who earned All-America honors in football and basketball while also competing in track and field.
He is survived by his wife, the former Polly Romeo, and his five children -- Linda, Della, Nick, Michelle and Mike.
Funeral arrangements are pending.