He was facing a line of questioning which would have made every football man in the country squirm in his seat.
The former Scotland and Rangers manager described Malky Mackay as "a very personable guy" and others will offer even more supportive testimonies than that, but the unease was obvious, too. Mackay stands accused of sending racist text messages, allegations which may well finish the career of one of our most promising young managers.
A statement was released by the League Managers' Association last night reflecting Mackay's position, and unwisely described offensive texts exchanged with his former head of recruitment at Cardiff City, Iain Moody, as "friendly text message banter". Ten thousand texts have been investigated and the statement claimed Mackay had been guilty of only "a couple" of one-line texts which were "very regrettable and disrespectful of other cultures".
He had never sent any sexist or homophobic messages, the statement said, despite media reports to the contrary. Mackay and Moody were on the verge of being reunited at Crystal Palace until the Selhurst Park club got wind of the text evidence that has been handed to Football Association officials.
Instead, their interest in Mackay disappeared and Moody yesterday resigned as their sporting director. The texts came to light after Cardiff engaged a law firm to investigate eight controversial transfers and obtained a search order from the High Court to enter Moody's house and seize work computers and phones.
McLeish was wisely unwilling to discuss the incident specifically. Speaking at the launch of a book chronicling the period when he worked under the doyen of British managers, Alex Ferguson, he nevertheless saw the Mackay story as symptomatic of the nest of vipers English football has become, in which clubs might investigate each other or try to expose rivals for financial gain.
"It's a rat-race down south when you consider the money, the shallowness and the fragility of management and coaching. Coaches are under scrutiny from day one. It's a really tough gig.
"I don't want to tread into dangerous waters because I am trying to get back into football and hopefully I will be working with someone down there soon. But on the back of every decent relationship I've had, I've generally had success. It would be great to go into a job and have someone above you who lets you get on with what you've been trained to do.
"That's been difficult for some. The chairmen are putting a lot of money into their clubs and they want a say in how it works."
But what of the allegations which threaten to end Mackay's career? All forms of recorded communication could be treacherous, said McLeish. "Emails are dangerous. You think you can delete them but they have been recorded. It's the same with social networks. Players are being warned about that all the time.
"You just don't know the circumstances of the conversations - it's been a shock for everyone. I know Malky very well, I've dealt with him on numerous occasions I've always found him a very personable guy. I'm not best buddies with him, Peter Grant my, assistant probably knew him better."
If there was sympathy for Mackay it was unspoken, which was understandable. The former Wolves and Cardiff manager has a reputation for being open, warm and accessible, a jarring contrast with the ugly content of the texts exposed by the investigation.
Mackay cannot expects his peers, even friends, to defend any racist expression, even when done in jest. The LMA - speaking for Mackay - said he had sent the offensive texts when under work stress and sincerely apologised for any offence caused by the "two isolated matters". He would fully co-operate with any FA investigation.
His fear must be that he has made himself unemployable. Happily no such stigma hangs over McLeish, but for the meantime a job eludes him since he left Nottingham Forest after only six weeks in February 2013. He was linked with the vacant Huddersfield position yesterday.
"There are a number of things on the go right now that I'm considering. England is still the place to be," said the 55-year-old. "It is the strongest league, the most competitive league in the world. Do I worry that my time has gone? Yeah, that can happen. Sometimes you are twiddling your thumbs wondering what you can do next. I'm enjoying the media stuff but then three buses come along at once."
A few yards away from him in the Hampden Hall of Fame yesterday Willie Miller was performing similar media duties. For eight-and-a-half years at Aberdeen they were the twin defensive pillars for Ferguson, the greatest boss of them all (whose longest spell of out of management was 24 hours). "There have been hundreds of great managers in this country and then there is him," Miller said. "It would be hard to see anyone emulate what he did or beat it. He was a one-off."