Bruce makes his first return to the DW Stadium today, and while his relationship with Whelan might have been soured by this week's debate over the quality of some of his signings, he retains fond memories of his two spells with Wigan.
The most successful saw him spend one-and-a-half years at the club between 2007-09, but the first contained just eight matches at the end of the 2000-01 season.
Having been sacked at Huddersfield in October 2000, Bruce was unemployed for six months before he joined the Latics the following April.
His dismissal from Huddersfield followed hot on the heels of an acrimonious departure from Sheffield United, and Bruce admits he was close to giving up on football when the call came from Wigan.
I was seriously thinking I didn't want to be in management,
said the Sunderland boss.
So when I got the knock on the door from (Wigan chairman) John Benson, I thought, Why not I'll give it a go for six weeks'. It came at a vital time.
When I got the sack (from Huddersfield), I became reclusive for the first time in my life. I just hid away. My house was getting done up at the time and I became a labourer just to keep me sane.
They were knocking my house to bits, so I used to help out and get the pie and chips and eat them! I used to do general labouring stuff and make the tea, and it saved me £50 a day.
But the biggest thing was I became a recluse. I didn't go anywhere and I didn't do anything.
I didn't want to go to a game in case somebody thought I was after their job.
It was the first time I thought I might walk away.
Instead, he joined Wigan for a brief eight-game spell before moving to Crystal Palace ahead of the start of the following season.
He resumed his relationship with the Latics in November 2007, replacing the departed Chris Hutchings, and proceeded to oversee one of the most successful periods in Wigan's history.
The club finished 14th in Bruce's first season and rose to 11th in his second, but his reign was littered with the forced departure of a number of his biggest stars.
Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey both left in January, and with a deal in place to sell Luis Antonio Valencia to Manchester United when Sunderland came calling in June, Bruce was effectively working with one hand tied behind his back.
You know if you're going into January and losing your best players, it's going to be tough, he said. And it was.
We still managed to finish the season 11th, but it could have been something better.
I was still very pleased because we got more than £30m for three players Heskey we got three-and-a-half, Valencia was about £16m and Palacios £14m. But it's very difficult to replace them. It was difficult to dismantle the team.
There is no demand to do that at Sunderland, and the financial stability provided by American Ellis Short was one of the reasons Bruce jumped at the opportunity to move.
Plenty of players left the Black Cats before the start of the season, but they were transfers Bruce was happy with, rather than ones he was required to accept.
We are trying to be a big club, and big clubs don't sell their best players, he said.
Of course if it's really good business, everyone sells one now and again.
But last Christmas there was a bid for Kenwyne Jones and they turned it down. That just shows you the approach.
It was one of the reasons I came not just a big crowd, but also a big-club feel.
Bruce should be boosted by Darren Bent's availability, with scans having shown that Sunderland's leading scorer did not suffer significant hamstring damage in last weekend's win over Arsenal.
Michael Turner is also available after serving a onematch suspension, and the former Hull centre-half is expected to replace John Mensah, with Paraguayan Paulo Da Silva retaining his starting spot.