Harbaugh, speaking with reporters via Zoom to preview U-M's College Football Playoff semifinal matchup in the Fiesta Bowl against No. 3 TCU (12-1), explained that he heard about Smith's incident from the senior himself and said it was a collaborative decision to allow Smith to play ever since.
"We found out the day that it happened," Harbaugh said. "Mazi was completely honest, up front, cooperative. Felt like he gave us the exact circumstances and then, as I said, this has been something that's — I really respect the justice system and feel like there will be a fair resolution that comes soon from that.
"As far as the decision to play Mazi Smith, from the time of the incident through now, that's a decision that's made by our athletic director Warde Manuel, president Santa Ono and myself, all who know Mazi Smith and know the kind of person he is and the trust he's built up in our program."
Smith was pulled over for speeding in Ann Arbor at 9:35 a.m. on Oct. 7. At the scene, he told officers he was in possession of a gun, though he did not have his driver's license on him nor a proper CPL. According to his attorney, John Shea, Smith's CPL was pending approval and he has since received it.
Despite being arrested on that day, Smith was not officially charged — he's facing one felony count of a concealed weapon — until last Wednesday.
EMU basketball star Emoni Bates was pulled over by the Washtenaw County Sherriff's Office earlier this fall, also while driving without a license and had a gun with no CPL. He was arrested that night and charged with two gun-related felonies less than 48 hours later.
Bates was suspended from the team indefinitely until he reached a plea deal with the prosecutor that brought the charges down to a misdemeanor. Smith has been with the team the entire season and has not missed a game.
Harbaugh said it's not advisable to compare Smith's situation to anybody else's.
"I'm not going to comment on whether it's a felony or not, or whether it should've been charged as a felony or not, but I think if you do your homework you're going to realize you can't compare this to the low hanging fruit that's out there," Harbaugh said. "I'd encourage you not to pander to the twitter sphere and really the haters, that like to drink their haterade and eat their hater tots.
"Let the facts come out, let that be decided and adjudicated through the court system."
Smith is scheduled for a probably cause hearing on Thursday.
This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Michigan AD, president, Jim Harbaugh made decision to play Mazi Smith