Leach, who was introduced as the 34th head coach in program history on Friday afternoon, said he was drawn to the resources and commitment of Mississippi State and the Southeast at large.
"I wanted the opportunity to have another chapter in my career," said Leach, 58. "Why do you play sports? Whether you're a player or a coach, it's to have the opportunity to do something bigger than you currently are."
"All those guys, I know," Leach said. "This conference is loaded with quality coaches. That's what makes it exciting."
Leach said the Pac-12 also was loaded, and if he had his druthers, "I like playing against crummy coaches better."
Leach, who spent the last eight years at Washington State and won a school-record 43 games over the past five seasons, said leaving those relationships behind was the hardest part of taking a new job.
"The other side of it," Leach said, "is you're going to be dead in 100 years anyway."
In the end, Leach said he was excited to coach the kind of high-caliber athletes that Mississippi State already possesses and is able to recruit every year.
"I've always wanted a quality place where people are committed to winning," Leach said. "Just to be perfectly honest, the recruiting base here is hard to resist."
Before accepting the job at Mississippi State, Leach talked to Arkansas about its opening, sources told ESPN's Chris Low, and he was close to landing the Tennessee job two years ago before John Currie was fired as the Volunteers' athletic director.
Leach succeeds Joe Moorhead, who was fired Jan. 3 after going 14-12 in two seasons with the Bulldogs.
The details of Leach's contract were released prior to his introductory news conference. His four-year deal -- state law limits the length of his contract to four years -- will pay him an annual salary of $5 million.
He'll have an annual compensation pool of $4.7 million for his staff. Leach said he has not filled out his coaching staff yet but hopes to have that wrapped up as soon as possible.
Introducing Leach, Mississippi State athletic director John Cohen made reference to restoring discipline within the program, which had become a point of contention under Moorhead.
"We hired Mike Leach because he's a disciplinarian," Cohen said. "We hired Mike Leach because he's a brilliant tactician. Most of all, we hired Mike Leach because he's a proven winner."