Sean O'Driscoll, only in the job five months, was given the boot by Forest's Kuwaiti owners on Wednesday night, just hours after their 4-2 Boxing Day victory over Leeds had left them eighth in the npower Championship - just one point off the play-off places.
McLeish was duly appointed on Thursday night and unveiled to the media on Friday afternoon. And the Scot said: "It is a terrific opportunity to come to a club of Nottingham Forest's magnitude. It has been a whirlwind and a surprise but a very welcome surprise."
He added: "It is always nice to get a job (like this) because normally you are waiting on somebody maybe in a bit of difficulty. And it is not the case with this job. It looks an absolutely wonderful challenge for me."
McLeish, 53, enjoyed a welcome break after being sacked by Aston Villa at the end of last season, bringing the curtain down on a difficult spell at the Barclays Premier League which ultimately ended with their top-flight survival.
McLeish admits his time at Villa Park came amid "a catalogue of horrors" but that he was ready to get back into the game. The former Scotland boss revealed he was offered a couple of posts, even some abroad in the past week or so, but that they were not the right challenge.
He now takes up a 12-month rolling contract at The City Ground, but the reaction of Forest fans - albeit nowhere near the scale of Villa supporters following his cross-city switch from fierce rivals Birmingham - has not been one filled with joy.
McLeish is fully aware of that and knows the only way to get fans fully on board is by winning games. However, his hopes of doing that on Saturday could be dashed with Forest's home clash against Crystal Palace subject to a 9.30am pitch inspection due to a waterlogged playing surface.
"Winning games is obviously something that helps to get fans behind you," he said. "I know that in any given job...it is not as if I'm Jose Mourinho walking in here and it is a unanimously popular decision.
"At times you have to realise that some of the fans are maybe not with you but if you win games and you can play the kind of football they produced against Leeds in the second half the other day there is no reason we can't get everyone singing from the same hymn sheet."
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