Former San Diego State women’s basketball coach Beth Burns was given the choice to resign or be fired in an apparent reaction to incidents of her striking an assistant, U-T San Diego’s Mark Ziegler reported Tuesday morning.

Ziegler reports that, following a flurry of public records requests by the U-T, the paper learned of a $250,000 settlement paid to the assistant coach, Adam Barrett.

The university had not disclosed any reason for the departure of its highly regarded coach in announcing Burns’ sudden “retirement” last April. In May, SDSU Athletic Director Jim Sterk reportedly said, “She decided to retire. I don’t want to get into why or whatever. That’s a decision she made, and I just need to respect that.”

In video compiled by the U-T, Burns is shown striking an assistant in two instances. The first clip shows her slapping Barrett’s notebook while the two were seated on the bench during a game at Viejas Arena. The second highlights Burns as she elbows Barrett after an opposing player made a three-point shot.

Neither incident seems particularly dramatic or physically harmful. In the first instance, Burns does not appear to make much, if any, contact with Barrett other than slapping his notebook. Burns clearly elbows Barrett in the second instance, and while he appears to be slightly jostled by the blow, both remain seated.

The obvious assumption — and it is no more than speculation — would be that those recorded instances were accompanied by further accusations of misconduct made by the assistant against Burns. But with no official disclosure or explanation from the university, there is no evidence that this is the case.

Earlier this month, Barrett was hired as associate head coach of the women’s basketball team at Saint Francis University in Loretto, Pa.

At the time of her resignation, Burns was coming off a successful season that saw the Aztecs win their conference regular-season title with a 27-7 record. She had been named Mountain West coach of the year for the sixth time in her career, and was one year into a five-year contract extension.

In a more perfect world, San Diego State, as a public, taxpayer-funded university, would provide the campus community and the public at large with transparency regarding events that led to a coach’s departure. Their failure to do so may be tied to pending litigation, however.

In response to Ziegler’s story, SDSU chief communications officer Greg Block said, “It’s a personnel issue, it’s a legal issue, so we’re not going to comment on it,” according to the U-T.

Ziegler notes that Burns has referred questions to attorney Ed Chapin, who said, “We are planning to present it in a court of law and seek justice to which Beth is entitled.”

With a lawsuit apparently in the works, it becomes much clearer why San Diego State officials have remained so tight-lipped. The courtside incidents may be headed for a more formal court.

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Beau Lynott is a private investigator and a contributor to Voice of San Diego.

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